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February 23, 2022

Taking a look at compassionate release record of one SCOTUS short-lister

I recall seeing a few weeks ago a notable Twitter thread about the compassionate release record of Judge J. Michelle Childs, who is on Prez Biden's SCORUS short list.  I see now that Matthew Ahn has turned his analysis into this new Inquest piece, headlined "No Compassion: Judge Michelle Childs’ many denials of compassionate release signal a carceralism that should have no place on the Supreme Court." I recommend the piece in full, and here are portions:

[R]equests for compassionate release in recent years have required judges to confront the horrors of pandemic incarceration and the added harshness of a sentence that usually did not contemplate COVID-19.  And judges have wide discretion to reduce a sentence; the reduced sentence is not subject to the harsh mandatory minimums enshrined in federal law.  Despite this, judges often sidestep the question and conclude that things haven’t changed enough since sentencing, either in the urgency of an inmate’s situation or in the work they’ve done on themselves to grow despite that situation.  Even if an applicant is almost done serving their sentence or has been actively participating in prison programs for several years, the odds are long — only 18 percent of compassionate release motions were granted in 2020 and early 2021.

These low rates of compassion seem hard to square with the basic nature of a pandemic that has torn through prisons at rates far more dangerous than in the broader population. Even then, it’s hard to overturn denials of compassionate release on appeal, given the broad discretion the law affords trial judges.  Thus, a mixed record containing some grants and some denials of compassionate release might be tolerable if the judge is actually considering the arguments and agreeing to some reductions.  It’s harder to stomach if the judge isn’t granting any motions.    

Based on her 23 COVID-related compassionate release rulings available on Westlaw, Judge Childs falls into that latter category....

When I set out to examine Judge Childs’ record in this setting, I was not expecting every case she considered to end in compassionate release.  For many of them, her hands are tied because the applicant either hasn’t made the proper requests to the BOP prior to asking the judge, as the law requires, or hasn’t submitted any supporting information. Judge Childs’ denials in those cases are unsurprising to me.

But I did not expect to find nothing but denials.  And not just denials — Judge Childs has never, in any of these available decisions, ruled for anyone on either of the two steps. That’s unlike many other judges, who will often find extraordinary and compelling reasons but deny based on the § 3553 factors.  In other words, Judge Childs’ record is a genuine outlier that is especially punitive and carceral when it comes to evaluating requests for compassionate release.  And it’s not just that she is from South Carolina, either.  The grant rate in Judge Childs’ district is 18 percent, which is right at the national average.  She’s an outlier compared both to the country and her state.    

February 23, 2022 at 05:46 PM | Permalink


No wonder bootlicker Lindsey Graham and Tim “no relation to Rick” Scott are so fond of her. Biden ought to see that as a giant red flag.

Posted by: kotodama | Feb 23, 2022 7:33:46 PM

The cited article as well as the prospect.org piece convince me she is likely to be in Judge Garland territory on criminal justice issues, well to the right of Breyer.

Posted by: Poirot | Feb 24, 2022 1:41:50 AM

Also should be noted is the article here: Michelle Childs Sentenced a Man to 12 Years for Selling Eight Ounces of Weed

The defendant had prior convictions, but faced a mandatory minimum of only five years.

One can only speculate if the circumstances of her father's demise have rendered her unable to see the full humanity of defendants and prisoners whose cases she's had to rule on, where she seems to stretch things in favor of the government again, and again. (A similarity on the right would be Michael Luttig, whose father's death seems to have done the same thing to him, and colored his views on the right to bear arms.) I hope criminal justice reform advocates do a much better job of loudly protesting the picking of her than they did with Garland.

Posted by: Poirot | Feb 24, 2022 11:26:21 AM

The right choice is Leondra Kruger.

Merrick Garland has a few loose marbles. He's either weeping or his voice is shaky.

Posted by: FluffyRoss | Feb 24, 2022 1:24:26 PM

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