Washington, D.C. — In a move that advances the Trump administration’s push to establish mandatory minimum sentencing practices nationwide, last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would require courts to send teens convicted of sexting to federal prison for 15 years.
The bill — the “Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act of 2017” — was introduced back in March by Representative Mike Johnson, a conservative from Louisiana. He and the Republican-controlled House overwhelmingly supported the legislation, with only two from the right side of aisle voting against it, along with 53 Democrats who opposed the bill.
One of the Republicans who opposed it was Representative Justin Amash of Michigan. A spokesperson from his office explained the congressman’s position:
“The bill prohibits some conduct that the Constitution does not allow Congress to regulate, and Rep. Amash opposes the expansion of mandatory minimums and crimes that are already prosecuted at the state level.”
In fact, most of the opposition to the bill centered on the expansion of mandatory minimum sentencing practices.
While speaking on the House floor, Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia — who called the legislation “particularly appalling” because it would “apply to people who I think we should all agree should not be subject” to long terms in a federal prison — pointed out that the proposed law would affect more than just the teens caught with explicit photos:
“That means if a teenager attempts to obtain a photo of sexually explicit conduct by requesting it from his teenage girlfriend, the judge must sentence that teenager to prison for at least 15 years for making such an attempt. If a teenager goads a friend to ask a teenager to take a sexually explicit image of herself, just by asking, he could be guilty of conspiracy or attempt, and the judge must sentence that teenager to at least 15 years in prison.”
It was back in May that Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, distributed a memo to federal prosecutors nationwide explaining that the new policy is to swing for the fences:
“It is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.”
But Representative John Conyers of Michigan asked lawmakers not to “overlook the consequences” of such a policy, and pointed out that the expansion of prosecutorial power actually does nothing in the way of protecting against child exploitation.
Conyers says that “given the new policy of the Attorney General,” he can no longer rely on laws coming out of Washington, D.C. to help keep children in his state safe:
”We are under a new regime here at the federal level, and I can’t depend on relying on the prosecutorial discretion to protect juveniles under this statute.”
But Johnson, the Louisiana congressman who introduced the bill — and who has also been a vocal supporter of Donald Trump — seems to think the federal government has the divine right to dictate policy. He said so himself while speaking on the House floor:
“In Scripture, Romans 13 refers to the governing authorities as ‘God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. I, for one, believe we have a moral obligation, as any just government should, to defend the defenseless.”