Biden’s sentencing panel noms vows to implement criminal justice reform law

US Sentencing Commission nominees US District Judge Carlton Reeves, Laura Mate, Claire McCusker Murray, US Circuit Judge Luis Restrepo, US District Judge Claria Horn Boom, John Gleeson and Candice Wong appear before the US Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, DC, on June 8 , 2022. US Senate/Handout via Reuters

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  • Seven Sentencing Commission nominees appear before US Senate Judiciary Committee
  • Commission has lacked a quorum for three years Republicans question some Biden nominees’ criticism of harsh sentences

(Reuters) – Seven nominees to the US Sentencing Commission promised on Wednesday to prioritize implementing a major 2018 criminal justice reform law, a task the hobbled panel had been unable to accomplish since losing its quorum shortly after its enactment.

US District Judge Carlton Reeves told the Senate Judiciary Committee that if confirmed as the panel’s chair, the commission would also address “troubling” divisions that emerged among courts on sentencing issues during the years it lacked a quorum.

The Mississippi judge is one of four Democratic nominees and three Republican picks that President Joe Biden put forward in May to join the seven-member, bipartisan commission, which lost its quorum in January 2019.

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That occurred a month after former Republican President Donald Trump signed into law the First Step Act, bipartisan legislation at easing harsh sentencing for nonviolent offenders and at reducing recidivism.

The Senate never acted on Trump’s own nominees to the commission, leaving it unable to update sentencing guidelines or provide clarity on how judges should apply the First Step Act.

Senior US District Judge Charles Breyer, its lone remaining commissioner and acting chair, has said that led to judges inconsistently deciding whether inmates under the measure could secure compassionate release amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Today, we take an important step to remedy that problem,” said Senator Dick Durbin, the committee’s Democratic chair from Illinois.

Criminal justice reform advocates hope a newly reconstituted commission could help ease excessive prison sentences.

But Senator Chuck Grassley, the committee’s ranking Republican and backer of the First Step Act, said he had concerns about “activism” in implementing the law.

Republicans sharply questioned some Democratic nominees including John Gleeson, a former federal judge from Brooklyn and critic of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, about their past advocacy against harsh sentences.

“How can you possibly say that more lenient sentencing and reduced penalties for convicted criminals is the answer to our crime problems?” Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee asked.

Gleeson, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, responded that as a judge he endeavored only to show the impact mandatory sentences have on “the individualized sentencing that our system contemplates.”

The other Democratic nominees are US Circuit Judge Luis Restrepo and Laura Mate, director of the Sentencing Resource Counsel.

The Republican nominees include Claire McCusker Murray, a Justice Department official during the Trump administration; Candice Wong, a federal prosecutor in Washington, DC, and US District Judge Claria Horn Boom in Kentucky.

(NOTE: This story has been updated to correct where Candice Wong is a prosecutor.)

Read more:

Biden moves to revitalize US sentencing panel, nominates first Black chair

US sentencing panel’s last member Breyer urges Biden to revive commission

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