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December 19, 2010

Notable new perspective on reasonableness review after Booker

I have long thought that appellate review was a weakest link in the Booker remedy, both jurisprudentially and practically.  Thus, this new piece on SSRN by Briana Rosenbaum really caught my eye. The piece is titled "Righting the Historical Record: A Case for Appellate Jurisdiction Over Appeals of Sentences for Reasonableness Under 28 U.S.C. § 1291," and here is the abstract:

This Article is the first to critically analyze the jurisdictional basis for the Supreme Court’s mandate in United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), that all courts of appeals review the length of criminal sentences for “reasonableness.”  In Booker, the Court created a new kind of appellate review: review of all criminal sentences for “reasonableness.”  As a result, the availability of appellate review has expanded greatly.  Data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission shows that, since Booker, the number of sentence appeals has risen. 

Unfortunately, the Court in Booker did not explain the jurisdictional basis for its expanded “reasonableness review.”  The omission is not trivial.  For decades, federal courts have held that courts of appeals do not have jurisdiction to review the length of criminal sentences.  The Supreme Court may not increase the jurisdiction of these courts; the Constitution gives this power to Congress alone.  Accordingly, if there is no basis for jurisdiction, the Supreme Court usurped Congress’ power to expand the jurisdiction of the federal courts.  Despite this, courts of appeals have unanimously followed the Supreme Court mandate to review sentences for reasonableness, with little more justification than “because the Supreme Court said so.”

This Article, for the first time, examines the historical and legislative underpinnings of appellate review of criminal sentences in an attempt to find a justification, if any, for Booker’s expanded appellate review.  The Article concludes that courts of appeals have indeed had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 to review the length of sentences, and have had such jurisdiction since at least 1891.  Although courts routinely rejected appeals of the length of sentences for lack of “jurisdiction” before Booker, they did so erroneously, relying on older case law without fully analyzing the basis for those decisions. In fact, this “rule of non-review” was based not on jurisdiction, but on a policy of deference to the sentencing judge -- a policy that can be changed at any point, by either Congress or the Supreme Court.  In Booker, the Supreme Court exercised such a power. For the first time, this Article provides the correct jurisdictional basis for the Booker decision, and, at the same time, rights the historical record on jurisdiction over appeals of criminal sentences.

December 19, 2010 at 11:46 AM | Permalink

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Comments

This article is staggering in its pompousness. How many times are you going to say "for the first time" or "first" as if the more you say it, the more the reader is going to be impressed. Come on now.....impress people with your analysis, not by declaring it to be original. And if it is original, then the reader can and should come to that conclusion by him or herself -- not by forcing it down their throats with "for the first time."

And what about this statement: "Despite this, courts of appeals have unanimously followed the Supreme Court mandate to review sentences for reasonableness, with little more justification than 'because the Supreme Court said so.'" In a system of precedent and law, that's all the justification you need. Would you expect anything more? In fact, if an appellate panel discussed at length why the Supreme Court was correct, it would smell of a pompousness almost as strong as this article.

Dumb, dumb......

Posted by: wtf | Dec 19, 2010 1:54:23 PM

The worst part about the article is that it is a basic straw-man argument. Prior to the SRA, the appeals courts looked at length of sentences, primarily under 8th amendment attacks; due to the substance of the 8th amendment, however, that was usually non-availing. Therefore, when courts talked about their "jurisdiction" to review sentences, they were really talking about the substance of the law rather than the jurisdiction provided by Congress. Sloppy language, yes. Obvious hole in the law, uncovered for the "first time" by the author? Not even close. I imagine it will play well with the tenure-review committee, though.

Posted by: Mark Pickrell | Dec 20, 2010 8:58:14 AM

If anyone knows where I can look at a copy of the actual article, I'd be obliged if you'd email me.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Dec 22, 2010 3:46:50 PM

Never mind - looks like it's back up on SSRN now.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Jan 2, 2011 7:03:40 AM

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