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Supreme Court: ‘Thousands’ Of Inmates Denied Chance At Shorter Sentences

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a convicted drug dealer, which had implications for thousands of federal prisoners seeking shorter sentences.

In an uncommon ideological split of 6-3, the court ruled that Mark Pulsifer, who admitted guilt to distributing methamphetamines in 2020, could not avail himself of a provision within the First Step Act, a substantial sentencing reform law, NBC News reported.

The question at hand revolved around whether Pulsifer should face a mandatory 15-year sentence or be eligible for a “safety valve” provision. The provision outlines conditions under which a lesser sentence could be applied to nonviolent, low-level drug offenders, the outlet reported.

The court concluded that Pulsifer did not meet the requirements in a ruling by liberal Justice Elena Kagan. Five of the court’s six conservative justices supported her in the majority.

The provision in question delineates a set of criteria for imposing sentences below the mandatory minimums. The court determined that Pulsifer must satisfy all the stipulations, dismissing his contention that meeting some criteria would suffice for relief. The decision hinged, in part, on the court’s interpretation of the term “and,” said the outlet.

Congress “did not extend safety-valve relief to all defendants, but only to some,” Kagan wrote. The two remaining liberal justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson, joined conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch in dissent.

Gorsuch claimed that the high court substantially limited the objective of the First Step Act.

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“Adopting the government’s preferred interpretation guarantees that thousands more people in the federal justice system will be denied a chance — just a chance — at an individualized sentence. For them, the First Step Act offers no hope.”

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court dealt another blow to Gov. Greg Abbott’s efforts to secure his state’s border with Mexico after years of dealing with migrant surges thanks to President Joe Biden’s lack of enforcement.

Justice Samuel Alito, who oversees the 5th Circuit district, further delayed Texas’ implementation of its immigrant deportation laws related to Senate Bill 4, Newsweek reported. The deadline is now extended until 5 p.m. on March 18th.

The new law was set to go into effect later this month and would allow for the arrest of people who are illegally in the state and country.

Earlier, “Alito issued the administrative hold, which will block the law from taking effect until March 13. That temporary pause will give the court additional time to review the case but does not necessarily signal which way the court is leaning,” CNN reported at the time.

The order came after several pro-mass immigration groups and the Biden administration filed an emergency application with the nation’s highest court after an appeals court gave Texas the green light to begin enforcing its law.

CNN added: “Senate Bill 4, signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in December, immediately raised concerns among immigration advocates about increased racial profiling as well as detentions and attempted deportations by state authorities in Texas, where Latinos represent 40% of the population. Last week, a federal judge in Austin, Texas, blocked the state government from implementing the law.”

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“If allowed to proceed, SB 4 could open the door to each state passing its version of immigration laws,” Judge David Alan Ezra wrote in his ruling that the federal appeals court eventually overturned.

The nation’s highest court has been busy this week.

The U.S. Supreme Court handed former President Donald Trump’s campaign a victory on Monday as the effort to remove him from the ballot in several states before the 2024 election continues.

“The Court denied a writ of certiorari petition from John Castro, a registered Republican candidate for president in 2024, who sought to have Trump removed from the ballot in Arizona,” Newsweek reported.

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Castro, John A. V. Fontes, AZ Sec. Of State, et al. The petition for a writ of certiorari before judgment is denied,” the high court said in its ruling, which rejected a review of an earlier decision to allow Trump on the ballot in the state.

Castro had filed lawsuits in several states to remove Trump from ballots over alleged connection to the January 6 riots and efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

In December, U.S. District Judge Douglas L. Rayes rejected Castro’s filing, which prompted him to take it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The judge noted in his ruling that Castro’s argument “lacks standing to bring his claim,” NBC News reported. Castro argued that Trump should be disqualified from the ballot in Arizona for allegedly offering support to “insurrectionists” on January 6, 2021.

The judge also said his arguments “do not show that Castro is truly competing with Trump.”

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