The White House is nominating seven lawyers for the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a bipartisan panel that helps set policies for punishing people convicted of federal crimes. The panel has lacked enough members to do important work since 2019. Criminal justice advocates had pushed the Biden administration to act for more than a year, NPR reports.
The diverse slate of nominees includes Mississippi U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, who is in line to be the first Black person to serve as chairman. Judicial opinions by Reeves on the history of racial discrimination and abuses by law enforcement have drawn national attention. Longtime federal public defender Laura Mate is in line to serve as the commission's vice chairwoman. Among other nominees is retired federal judge John Gleeson, who now works in private legal practice and speaks out about racial disparities in punishments for drug crimes. Conservative-leaning nominees include. Claire McCuster Murray served as principal deputy associate attorney general in the Trump administration and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and for now Justice Brett Kavanaugh, when he served on an appeals court. "The agency has been the source of some of the most meaningful reforms of the past 10 years," said Mary Price, general counsel of the group FAMM, which advocates for people in prison and their families. "These reforms have reduced excessive federal drug sentences for tens of thousands of people. Confirming these nominees to the Sentencing Commission can and should be the first step to building on that progress."
Senior U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, the acting chairman, has asked the Biden White House to act.
Breyer has been expressing concern about the courts' inability to follow through on a criminal justice law known as the First Step Act, which expanded the ability of people in prison to apply for compassionate release.
In a new report on compassionate releases in fiscal years 2020 and 2021, the commission said that judges released 17.2 percent of inmates who applied for them -- 3867 offenders -- and denied the other 82.8 percent, 18,653 offenders.