President Donald Trump’s four nominees to the U.S. Sentencing Commission include three well-known conservatives who may be inclined to support tougher sentences in federal criminal cases.
The White House announcement Thursday described it as a “bipartisan group” of nominees, but if all of them are approved by the Senate, the voting majority of the six-member commission (two of whom serve as ex-officio, nonvoting members), could tilt rightward, according to observers.
The commission, an independent judiciary agency, was created by Congress in 1984 “to reduce sentencing disparities and promote transparency and proportionality in sentencing,” according to its website.
The nominees are: federal appellate judge William H. Pryor, Jr. of Alabama, who has been considered by Trump for the Supreme Court; federal appellate judge Luis Felipe Restrepo of Pennsylvania, an Obama appointee to the court; federal district judge Henry E. Hudson of Richmond, Va.; and William G. Otis, a former federal prosecutor who now is an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University.
Judge Pryor currently serves as Acting Chair of the commission. If his re-appointment is confirmed, he will serve as chair, the White House said.
Sentencing expert Douglas Berman of Ohio State University noted on his Sentencing Law & Policy blog that Hudson as a prosecutor was known by the nickname “Hang ’Um High,” and that Otis “prominently shares his (tough-on-crime) sentencing perspectives in many media.”
Reason noted that Otis has called for abolishing the sentencing commision.
Otis has written for The Crime Report about the Justice Department and sentencing.
Berman describes Pryor as an “Alabama pal” of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Restrepo is a former defense attorney.
The advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums said it had never taken a position on sentencing commission nominees, “but we feel compelled to change that policy in light of today’s announcement. Mr. Otis’s outdated views are well-known and well-documented.
“This is not a person who will be guided by evidence and data. The Senate should reject this nomination.”
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of the Crime Report. Readers’ comments welcomed.