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April 16, 2024

Senator Kennedy introduces "Consensus in Sentencing Act" to increase USSC votes needed for guideline amendments

A helpful colleague alerted me to this fascinating new press release from the office of US Senator John Kennedy discussing the introduction of some fascinating new proposed legislation.  Here are the details from the press release reprinted here in full:

WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today introduced the Consensus in Sentencing Act to require the U.S. Sentencing Commission to achieve bipartisan agreement to make major policy changes.

The legislation would amend 28 U.S.C. § 994(a) to require that amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines receive five votes from the Commission’s seven voting members. 

“The Sentencing Commission for decades strove to achieve bipartisan agreement when adopting amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines. In recent years, the Commission has lost its way and begun forcing through amendments on party-line votes. My bill would help the Sentencing Commission revive its consensus-building culture,” said Kennedy. 


  • The Sentencing Commission is made up of seven voting members. No more than four members can belong to the same political party. 
  • In a sharp break from its traditional bipartisan practices, the Commission’s current leadership has forced through several major policy changes to federal sentencing law on a party-line basis.
  • The Commission is currently considering several other major proposed changes.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) cosponsored the legislation.

Full text of the Consensus in Sentencing Act is available here

I am pretty sure that recent US Sentencing Commission votes on a 4-3 basis were the adoption of the new sentence reduction (compassionate release) guidelines and the decision to make new criminal history rules retroactive. I believe all other actions by the current Commission have been unanimous, but I am not entirely sure about all vote tallies.

This bill has been introducted the day before the Commission is scheduled to conduct a public meeting with an agenda that includes "Vote to Promulgate Proposed Amendments."  The timing here cannot be pure coincidence, and I wonder if we should now expect some split votes (or not expect split votes) on some of these proposed amendment topics (eg, perhaps there is an proposed amendment on acquitted conduct that is driving controversy beyond the wall of the USSC building and all the way up to Capitol Hill).

I doubt that this bill to require five votes for guideline amendments will get enacted anytime soon, if ever.  But the bill's very introduction highlights that this active new Commission is garnering notable attention for its notable activity.

April 16, 2024 at 08:55 PM | Permalink


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