Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Judicial Discrection: A Look Back and a Look Forward Five Years After Booker"

The title of this post is the title of this terrific symposium about federal sentencing law in which I am participating today.  Though sponsored by the University of Utah, I am actually about to head to DC to participate in the event from inside the Beltway, along with some of the other of these impressive participants:

Here is how the promotional materials describe the event:

This symposium will explore issues surrounding judicial discretion and sentencing.  After opening remarks from Judge William K. Sessions III, Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, panelists will explore the extent to which the sentencing guidelines continue to provide useful guidance to judges five years after the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Booker.  The panelists will also explore mandatory minimum sentencing schemes and ask whether they usefully impose tough punishment or inappropriately restrict the ability of judges to make the punishment fit the crime.  The symposium will conclude with a general discussion of sentencing issues and provide an opportunity to audience members to ask questions of the participants.

Excitingly, folks can watch this event live online (as well as comment below) thanks to the magic of the internet and a link at dashboard.law.utah.edu.

February 18, 2010 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Is legislation to lower federal sentences a real possibility in 2008?

In this recent post, I hinted at my own pessimism about the prospects of legislation to lower federal sentences during an election year.  But this new article from the Houston Chronicle strike a distinctly more optimistic tone.  Here a excerpts:

The tough-on-crime crackdown of the 1980s and 1990s is getting a second look in Congress. Some lawmakers, including Houston Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, are questioning whether the soaring incarceration rates brought about by changes in federal sentencing laws have actually deterred crimes....

Jackson Lee, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee's crime subcommittee, is part of the vanguard re-examining a criminal justice system that has seen the federal prison population double from 1.1 million inmates in 1990 to 2.3 million today [sic: these numbers are national incarceration, not the federal prison population]....

The momentum for change reaches beyond liberal lawmakers and left-leaning interest groups. The Supreme Court and the Sentencing Commission recently moved to give judges more discretion in sentencing crack cocaine offenders....

Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, will be among those standing in Jackson Lee's way.  After the Sentencing Commission's decision to allow judges to retroactively reduce crack offenders' sentences slightly — though not less than the mandatory minimums — Smith introduced his own legislation seeking to block any early releases. "In addition to endangering our communities, allowing the early release of criminals back into society would cripple our re-entry programs by overburdening probation officers and flood the courts with additional litigation," Smith said....

Jackson Lee, who also is pushing to cut prison rates by half for nonviolent federal offenders who are over the age of 45 and have served at least 50 percent of their sentence, said she is hopeful that the new Democratic majority in Congress will be able to prevail on criminal justice changes.  "The question of liberty is so important to me, and the question of having faith in the integrity of the criminal justice system," she said. "There is a sense of urgency to make right which has been wrong, to improve what has not worked, and to find ways to rehabilitate, to protect the American public from crime but at the same time give people a second chance."  Her views are far from universally shared. Jackson Lee acknowledged the legislation faces a strong challenge, though the congresswoman said she has high hopes of getting it into law this year.

For lots and lots and lots of political and practical reasons, I doubt significant sentencing reforms will emerge from Congress in 2008.  But perhaps I am being too pessimistic at a time when everyone seems to be getting on the change bandwagon. 

February 3, 2008 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Might Congress move ahead with sound sentencing reforms?

In the two-plus years since Booker, Congress has been remarkable quiet on the sentencing front.  Though there have been proposals for large and small sentencing reform from all quarters, Congress has shown relatively little interest in radically changing (or even seriously studying) post-Booker sentencing realities.

As documented here and here at FAMM, however, some members of Congress now appear interested in exploring possible sentencing reforms.  Specifically, later this month brings these two notable congressional events (as described by FAMM):

June 17, 2007 in Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Friday, June 01, 2007

AG Gonzales talking again about a mandatory minimum guideline system

Perhaps deciding that the best defense is a good offense, Attorney General Gonzales today announced a set of new initiatives for combating violent crime.  (I would think that not firing well-regarded US Attorneys would be part of any effective crime-fighting program, but....)

As detailed in this lengthy official press release, one part of the AG's proposed plan is another pitch for a "topless guideline" Booker fix that would make mandatory again "the bottom of the guideline range for each offense."  There are lots and lots of particulars to the AG's proposed "new legislation to help prevent and combat violent crime," and it is not clear that anything is new in the Booker fix discussion.  In addition, it strikes me as very unlikely that any "topless guideline" system would be well received in Congress.  Nevertheless, it is interesting and notable that, after nearly six months of ugly developments involving the AG, he and his Justice Department are starting what should be a hot summer with some old school "tough on crime" talk.

June 1, 2007 in Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Early reactions to topless guidelines bill

As detailed here, House Judiciary Chair James Sensenbrenner has finally introduced his "topless guidelines" legislative Booker fix, a proposal about which I have already written a lot (in this article and in so many posts).  I am thus pleased to see other bloggers weighing in with astute observations about the misguided aspects of this Booker fix proposal.

Ellen Podgor at White Collar Crime Prof Blog here notes that sentences are going up in a key area after Booker and she asks this insightful question: "Is there really any need for topless guidelines if the sentences are going up in the one area, white collar crime, that seems to be of enormous concern?"

Anthony J. Colleluori, aka That Lawyer Dude, here provides a fuller critique in a post entitled "Congressman Sensenbrenner Goes Topless In The House Of Representatives: Lies Our Congressmen Tell Us."  Here is one of many sharp passages in his post:

Lie No. 3: Senselessbrenner states in [his press] release that "Two of the hallmarks of our judicial system, fairness and equity, have been undermined since the Supreme Court's Booker decision last year."... [But] the bipartisan committee of the Constitution Project (Chaired by Reagan Attorney General Edwin Messe and Clinton's Deputy AG Phillip Heymann) said that "topless guidelines are unconstitutional." Other commentators have noted that the guidelines now allow the sentencing courts to get the sentence right and allow the Circuits to keep everyone in line.... If Sensenbrenner really wants to protect children from exploitation, let him start on Capital Hill.

October 1, 2006 in Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Friday, September 29, 2006

Sensenbrenner officially introduces topless guidelines Booker fix

I heard word today that House Judiciary Committee Chairman, F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. has (finally) officially introduced a legislative Booker fix in the form of HR 6254 (available for download below).  Though some resist the label "topless guidelines," that label is the easiest way to describe a bill that is formally called the "Sentencing Fairness and Equity Restoration Act of 2006."  I likely will spend the weekend discussion this (somewhat expected) development, but I have an afternoon with more fun that blogging planned.  Plus, as revealed below, I have already blogged aplenty about these matters.

Download booker_introduction_draft.pdf

Just some of many posts on topless guidelines and other Booker fix buzz:

Posts in my (now dated) "Dead Booker walking?" series:

September 29, 2006 in Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Will the fall bring any Booker fix action?

As detailed in this post, in July at the 2006 National Sentencing Policy Institute, there was much talk that September would bring congressional hearings on Booker and perhaps the introduction of Booker fix legislation.  However, continuing a recent trend noted here and here, talk of a legislative response to Booker remains surprisingly muted; lately I have not heard any serious buzz about planned congressional hearings on Booker.

Of course, primarily as a result of interesting court rulings, the summer has been full of Booker action (highlights here).  And, with fascinating en banc hearings in the works in the Third Circuit on burdens of proof (basics here) and in the Ninth Circuit on reasonableness review (basics here), we should expect more of the same this fall.  The Supreme Court will also be back in the mix through its Blakely work in Cunningham and Burton (although decisions in those cases likely won't arrive until the winter months).

Last September in this post, I set out a few political and legal reasons why I thought the Booker remedy might endure.  I am intrigued and surprised to discover that these insights from last year remain quite timely.  Consequently, for exciting action this fall, think baseball finales and Buckeye football, not Booker fixes.

September 7, 2006 in Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Friday, July 28, 2006

News on the Booker fix front

At the start of this week, I returned from my "vacation" by jumping deep into the post-Booker world at the 2006 National Sentencing Policy Institute in Washington DC.  Though not an event open to the public, I think I can report publicly discussed news. 

Of particular interest was a panel with congressional counsel talking about legislative reactions to Booker and a speech by Deputy AG Paul McNulty about DOJ's continued support for Booker fix legislation.   Here are a few highlights on Booker fixes and other sentencing legislation:

1.  A Sensenbrenner "topless guidelines" Booker fix proposal is likely to be introduced in the House in September, though serious action on the bill before the November elections seems unlikely.

2.  The Senate Judiciary Committee is likely to hold some sort of hearings on Booker in September, although serious action on any legislation seems unlikely this fall.

3.  The Justice Department continues to support a "minimum guideline system" (which they do not like having called topless guidelines), and DOJ seems likely to start pushing hard for such a system in the months ahead.

4.  We can and should expect to see continued interest in mandatory minimums from some members of Congress as long as the guidelines are advisory; the latest notable example of mandatory minimums appears in the new child safety legislation (noted here and here) that became law yesterday.

5.  The Second Chance Act is a fascinating bipartisan bill that sounds as though it has a lot of really good provisions to help on a range of important re-entry issues.

Some related Booker fix posts:

July 28, 2006 in Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Senate bill to reduce crack/powder disparity

The Washington Times is reporting this exciting news from the Senate:

A bipartisan group of four U.S. senators, all former state attorneys general, presented legislation yesterday to reduce the disparity in prison sentences for those caught with crack cocaine and those caught with powdered cocaine. That disparity in federal sentencing guidelines is currently 100-to-1. It would be reduced to 20-to-1 under a measure introduced yesterday by Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Ken Salazar of Colorado.

The Drug Sentencing Reform Act of 2006 would reduce the disparity by decreasing the amount of crack cocaine necessary to trigger the mandatory minimum sentencing and introducing a "modest increase on powders," said Mr. Sessions, who presented a similar Senate bill in 2001.  Currently, possession of 500 grams of powdered cocaine results in a five-year mandatory minimum sentencing. It takes only 5 grams of crack cocaine to warrant a similar sentence. The senators propose shifting the sentencing amounts to 400 grams of powder and 20 grams of crack cocaine.

The bill would bring about "tougher sentences on the worst and most violent drug offenders and less severe sentences on lower-level, nonviolent offenders," said Mr. Sessions, adding that the measure would shift the emphasis in sentencing from drug quantity to the type of criminal act committed in distributing drugs. "This does not signal that we are going soft on crime," Mr. Sessions told reporters yesterday. He said that "much crime is driven by drug use," but that as a former federal prosecutor, he has "valid concerns in the disparity between crack and powder." Mr. Cornyn said his prior experience as attorney general of Texas showed him that "laws should be firm but fair. We not only need just laws, but they need the appearance and reality of fairness."

The crack/powder sentencing disparity -- which has resulted in higher incarceration rates for blacks convicted of drug crimes -- long has been targeted by groups such as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union. In 2000, more than 84 percent of those sentenced for crack cocaine distribution were black, while 9 percent were Hispanic and 5 percent were white. By contrast, 30 percent of those sentenced for powdered cocaine were black, 50 percent were Hispanic and 15 percent were white.

This local story from an Alabama paper on the bill provides some more perspectives on the issue.

Many critics of current federal sentencing laws are surely eager for drug sentencing reform that goes beyond this relatively minor tinkering in the cocaine area (such as the elimination of all statutory mandatory minimums).  However, just the introduction of this bill marks a significant step forward inthe crack/powder debate.  It would be especially exciting and valuable if the Senate were to hold hearings on this bill to give these issues a wider airing and if the US Sentencing Commission were to follow-up the introduction of this bill by (finally) doing something bold in this arena.

Some related posts:

UPDATE: The folks at FAMM has this reaction to the new bill.  Here is a snippet:

Instead of tinkering with drug weights, the senators should reform mandatory minimum sentencing laws so that drug weights alone don't determine sentence length. Sentences should be based on traditional factors such as culpability, role in the offense, and the use of weapons or violence. Congress needs to allow the Courts to consider all factors of the offense and the offender to insure a fair and proportionate sentencing system.

July 26, 2006 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Monday, July 17, 2006

Constitution Project urges post-Booker reforms

With perhaps not enough fanfare, the Constitution Project's Sentencing Initiative last week  released another important report from its blue-ribbon Committee working on post-Booker sentencing reforms.  Details about the new report and access to it are available at this page, and here is a brief official account of the report's mission and particulars:

The Constitution Project's bipartisan Sentencing Initiative [has] issued specific recommendations for improving federal sentencing. The Initiative's Recommendations for Federal Criminal Sentencing in a Post-Booker World, which can be found at this link, provide guidance for simplifying existing sentencing guidelines, improving due process for criminal defendants, and increasing participation by crime victims. They also offer alternative options for an entirely new sentencing scheme.

The blue-ribbon Sentencing Initiative, an ideologically diverse committee co-chaired by Edwin Meese III, Attorney General during the Reagan Administration, and Philip Heymann, Deputy Attorney General during the Clinton Administration, has been examining various aspects of criminal sentencing since 2004.  The committee's latest recommendations were prompted by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year in U.S. v. Booker, in which the Court ruled that the previously mandatory Federal Sentencing Guidelines must be treated as advisory in order to be constitutional.

According to Co-chair Meese, "The Sentencing Initiative's bipartisan recommendations should guide any attempt to reform our nation's criminal sentencing system.  Simplification of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, combined with improving discovery for defendants and participation by victims, will produce a sentencing scheme that is more fair and effective and that both protects public safety and defendants' constitutional rights."

July 17, 2006 in Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, June 26, 2006

Engaging review of "Tweaking Booker"

Over at PrawfBlawg, Dan Markel here provides a long and thoughtful "review" of my "Booker fix" article, Tweaking Booker: Advisory Guidelines in the Federal System (noted before here and available via SSRN from this web page).  For now, I won't review this review, but instead will be content to point interested readers to Dan's interesting perspective and to thank him for his many kind words and for engaging so fully with my article.

June 26, 2006 in Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Sensenbrenner Booker fix drafted

I am in sentencing nerd nirvana here at the Miami FSG conference (though feeling a bit overwhelmed).  All the morning plenary sessions were absolutely amazing (especially a panel with the former and current USSC chairs), and I even got in a good one-liner during my panel.  I wish I could attend all the afternoon break-out sessions all at once and also be on-line and also talk to everyone I am meeting in the hallways. 

Helpfully, though I lack the energy to even try to live-blog the event, Anthony J. Colleluori, aka That Lawyer Dude, is trying to live blog here (and also maybe here later).  I'd be eager to link to anyone else writing about the conference, especially since my comments still are not working right.

The biggest news, beyond the release of new USSC stats that I'll discuss later, is that the Sennsenbrenner "topless guidelines" Booker fix bill is fully drafted and perhaps will soon be introduced.  It carries the audacious title "Sentencing Fairness and Equity Restoration Act of 2006."  Needless to say, I doubt I'm the only one put off by the suggestion that judges and others who have been working so hard after Booker to be fair and equitable need such a "Restoration Act" in the form of the proposed (harsh) mandatory minimum guidelines.  Put another way, I do not think topless guidelines fulfill any notion of restorative justice that I have ever heard of.

As of this writing, it seem uncertain exactly when (or even if) the Sensenbrenner bill will be introduced.  But the title alone suggests that polticial rhetoric and not policy realism will be the coin of the realm in any coming Booker fix debates.

June 1, 2006 in Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, May 15, 2006

Latest issue of FSR off to press

I am happy to announce that another issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter is about to go to press.  This forthcoming issue (Volume 18, No. 3) is titled "Taking Stock a Year After Booker" and it follows up themes covered in these three recent FSR issues covering Booker and post-Booker developments:

(Regular readers may recall a Blakely interlude is all the Booker coverage through FSR Issue 18.1: State of Blakely in the States.)

My opening commentary to this latest FSR Booker issue, entitled "Now What? The Post-Booker Challenge for Congress and the Sentencing Commission," can be downloaded below.  The full contents of this latest FSR issue are listed below, and the Federal Sentencing Reporter can be ordered here and accessed electronically here

EDITOR'S OBSERVATIONS

ARTICLES

ADDITIONAL MATERIALS

May 15, 2006 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Friday, May 05, 2006

SSRN version of Tweaking Booker

I will use other bloggers' interesting discussion of SSRN realities here and here as an excuse to highlight that my "Booker fix" paper, Tweaking Booker: Advisory Guidelines in the Federal System (noted before here) can now be accessed via SSRN from this web page.   Interestingly, the e-mail I got from SSRN encouraged me to link to my SSRN Author Home Page.  Mission accomplished.

May 5, 2006 in Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, April 24, 2006

Full draft of Tweaking Booker

The terrific editors of the Houston Law Review have just sent me a clean copy of the latest proofs of my article on post-Booker federal sentencing entitled "Tweaking Booker: Advisory Guidelines in the Federal System." The piece, which can be downloaded below, perhaps serves as a fitting companion to Judge McConnell's recent article "The Booker Mess" (discussed here) for anyone trying to get up-to-speed on the post-Booker federal sentencing world.  Here is a snippet from my introduction:

If writing on a blank slate, few would likely advocate the precise sentencing system resulting from the Supreme Court's decision in Booker.  Nevertheless, in this Article, I contend that policymakers should consider playing the peculiar Booker hand that the Court has dealt for federal sentencing. Especially because any significant alteration of the structure of federal sentencing remains legally treacherous and fraught with uncertainty, Congress and the U.S. Sentencing Commission should focus their efforts and energies on improving the advisory guideline system that Booker has produced.  I suggest that, though the sentencing scheme created by Booker is far from perfect, a program of modulated incremental changes is likely to provide the soundest course for the post-Booker development of the federal sentencing system.

Download tweaking_booker_final_draft.pdf

April 24, 2006 in Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, April 03, 2006

House Booker hearing follow-up

Today I received a copy of very interesting supplemental written testimony from attorney James Felman, who testified at the March 16 House hearing on Booker (and whose original testimony can be accessed here).  This supplemental written testimony, which can be downloaded below and is a very interesting read, addresses issues such as sex offender sentencing and cooperation discounts that were some of the focal points during the House hearing.

Download felman_supplemental_congressional_testimony.pdf

Some related prior posts:

April 3, 2006 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Topless guidelines bill in the works from Sensenbrenner

I have now heard from two different sources that House Judiciary Chair James Sensenbrenner intends to introduce a bill mandating topless guidelines, and that there will be a hearing concerning the solution to the post-Booker sentencing problems that he identifies sometime in early May.  My impression from the House hearing earlier this month was that most of the witnesses did a powerful job urging Congress to leave Booker alone for now, but apparently Sensenbrenner was unconvinced.  Needless to say, this is a story to watch, and the links below provide plenty of background.

BOOKER REPORT AND OTHER USSC DEVELOPMENTS AND COMMENTARY

BOOKER HOUSE HEARING DEVELOPMENTS AND COMMENTARY

GENERAL BOOKER FIX POSTS AND RESOURCES

March 30, 2006 in Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Friday, March 17, 2006

More reports from House Booker hearings

Though yesterday's House Booker hearing (basics here and here) has received relatively little attention, I can provide some additional views of the event.  For starters, the Sentencing Project has a brief recap of the hearing at this link.  In addition, an article about the hearing ran yesterday in CQ Today entitled "Justice Official Urges 'Minimum Guidelines System' to Limit Sentencing by Judges."  Here are snippets from that article:

Members of Congress adopted a wait-and-see posture after the Booker decision.  But House Republicans, citing a new report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission released this week, are now calling for a legislative response to curb judges' discretion.

Howard Coble, R-N.C., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, which held Thursday's hearing, said he would think through the testimony before endorsing any legislative approach. Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., did not attend the hearing but said a day earlier that he and the attorney general "are going to be on the same page on this."...

Panel Republicans, Democrats and their witnesses drew sharply different conclusions about the Sentencing Commission's latest report on post-Booker sentencing practices and whether it justified congressional intervention.

In addition, soon after the hearing yesterday, Nkechi Taifa, a Senior Policy Analyst of the Open Society Institute circulated an e-mail with her "quick notes" on the event.  Nkechi was kind enough to permit me to post her notes on the blog, and then can now be downloaded below.

Download taifa_quick_notes_on_booker_hearing.rtf

March 17, 2006 in Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Following the standard script at House hearing

TI have just returned from speaking at the Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law (where I was wonderfully hosted), and I see that today's House Booker hearing is now web archived at this link along with the written testimony of all four witnesses.  I surmise from the written testimony that each witness largely played the expected roles: DOJ representative Bill Mercer pushed for topless guidelines as a Booker fix, while everyone else highlighted that there was no need for an immediate legislative response to Booker.

I hope to comment more about the House hearing after having a chance to watch the full webcast late tonight.  (First, keeping my priorities straight, I have to watch some basketball and check my brackets.)  But one line in Mercer's written testimony really caught my eye.  In calling for a Booker fix, Mercer says DOJ believes "the simplest, most efficient, and most effective way of reinstituting mandatory sentencing is through a minimum guidelines system."

In at least one sense, this is blatant falsehood: the simplest way to reinstitute mandatory sentencing would be for Congress to adopt the remedy suggested by Justices Scalia, Thomas and Stevens in Booker.  As Justice Stevens explained, that remedy would not require any changes to the Sentencing Reform Act; Congress could simply express its intent for the guidelines to be mandatory even though aggravating facts triggering longer sentences would have to be proven to a jury or admitted by the defendant.  This solution would clearly be constitutional and reinstitute mandatory sentencing, but DOJ does not seek a legislative solution that — gasp! — might actually give defendants the procedural rights that Blakely and Booker were supposedly about.

March 16, 2006 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

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 in Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack