Ashcroft the Avenger

Two Minnesota judges return fire at the justice department

So why target Rosenbaum? Friedberg says it's because Rosenbaum was "courageous" enough to speak out in the first place: "He made the mistake of believing the judiciary committee was actually interested in what he had to say."

It's a sentiment echoed by Victoria Toensing, Rosenbaum's attorney, who notes that besides Magnuson and Rosenbaum, only one other judge, in New York, has criticized what amounts to an abuse of power. That judge did so after he had left the bench. "This is being done by political people with axes to grind," says Toensing. "Congress ought to stay out of criminal cases. This is about the integrity of the branches."

(It's worth noting, however, that it's also about the taxpayers. With rising inmate populations, Ashcroft's movement all but ensures the federal government will spend more on its correctional facilities, sending the national budget further into debt.)

Toensing, who calls herself a "Libertarian Republican," was actually involved in the drafting of the original guidelines in 1984, when she was deputy chief of the Justice Department's criminal division. "These were supposed to be guidelines," she recalls. "These were not cement."

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