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March 16, 2006

Editorial on USSC Booker report and reaction

The Massachusetts newspaper The Republican this morning has this notable editorial entitled "Study on sentencing ought to quell critics," which discusses US Sentencing Commission's Booker report (details here and here) and congressional reaction.  Here is a taste:

A 277-page report released by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the body that sets the guidelines for judges, ought to have calmed critics of the Supreme Court's ruling. But it hasn't. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., not only didn't find any solace in the study, he saw in the report reason to try to write new laws that would keep the judges from judging.

The problem with a book of rules delineating criminal sentences ought to be obvious. A crime that might appear on the surface to be like another crime — at least according to what is stipulated in the sentencing rulebook — could well, in fact, be quite different. That's where a judge comes in — to look at the facts of the case at hand.

But for Sensenbrenner — and others of a similar bent — that's not good enough. Congress is good at many things, but deciding that lawmakers know better than federal judges — no matter the case — is not one of them.

Federal judges have a set of sentencing guidelines that they follow in the great majority of cases. But they also have the knowledge and wisdom and experience to pursue a different course when the situation so warrants.  The Supreme Court's ruling 14 months ago sought to ensure that judges retain that power.  Lawmakers would do well to let that decision stand as it is.

March 16, 2006 at 07:14 AM | Permalink

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