Wisconsin Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner, one of the most influential members of Congress on criminal justice issues, will not seek re-election next year after four decades on Capitol Hill.
Called a “combative conservative” by the Associated Press, Sensenbrenner, 76, is a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and its Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.
Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, Judiciary’s top Republican, called Sensenbrenner “already a legend in the Judiciary Committee and in the House of Representatives.”
He was a leading author of the USA Patriot Act, the anti-terrorism measure enacted in response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In recent years, Sensenbrenner was best known in criminal justice circles for advocating the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which includes the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) which established minimum baselines for states to track sex offenders.
Only 18 states have complied with the law’s provisions, the Justice Department reports, although 135 tribes and 4 territories also have adopted them. States that do not follow the law lose some of their federal anticrime funds.
Many states have objected to the relatively high costs of meeting the law’s standards, such as expanding their sex offender registries and adding staff to deal with additional check-ins required of offenders.
For example, Texas at one point estimated its cost of implementing SORNA would exceed $38 million, while the state would lose only $2.2 million in federal funds.
Texas estimated that its cost to implement SORNA would be at least $38 million, while according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the cost of losing the JAG funds would be just $2.2 million.
As of 2017, when the House passed a reauthorization of SORNA, it provided for a registry that included information on more than 900,000 convicted sex offenders around the nation.
The proposed 2017 revisions to the law, which never became law, would have given states more flexibility in classifying sex offenders on their registries, lowered the period that certain juveniles must register to 15 years, and limited public access to information on juvenile sex offenders.
At the time of the vote, Sensenbrenner expressed hope that with its “common sense changes, more states will come into compliance.”
Sensenbrenner also has championed immigration restrictions, including curbing asylum and barring immigrants in the U.S. illegally from obtaining driver’s licenses.
He was a prime sponsor of the Second Chance Act, which supports prisoner reentry programs around the nation, and the reauthorization of that law, which was included in the First Step Act passed by Congress late last year.
Sensenbrenner also was a leading sponsor of the 2004 Justice for All Act, which established the rights of crime victims in federal criminal cases and provided mechanisms to enforce those rights.
This summary was prepared by Ted Gest, Washington bureau chief and president of Criminal Justice Journalists.