Biden Taps 7 Nominees To Fill Out Sentencing Commission

By Jack Karp | May 11, 2022, 3:51 PM EDT ·

President Joe Biden nominated seven potential new members of the U.S. Sentencing Commission on Wednesday, hoping to round out a bipartisan body that has been without a quorum since 2019.

The nominees include three sitting federal judges and one former judge, one of whom would be the commission's first Black chair, according to the announcement.

"They look like they're highly qualified and obviously diverse across a number of different criteria, and that's what I think we would all hope for," Douglas A. Berman, a professor at the Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law who specializes in criminal law and sentencing, told Law360.

Biden tapped U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves of the Southern District of Mississippi, who would be the first Black chair of the commission if confirmed, according to the announcement.

Judge Reeves has sat on the bench since 2010 after being nominated by President Barack Obama. Before that, he worked in private practice and served as chief of the Civil Division for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Mississippi, the announcement said.

More recently, Judge Reeves garnered notice when he issued an opinion blasting the doctrine of qualified immunity and urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn it while begrudgingly granting that immunity to a police officer accused of violating a Black motorist's civil rights.

Biden nominated Third Circuit Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo as a vice chair on the commission. Before joining the appellate court in 2016, Judge Restrepo was a district court judge and a magistrate judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

U.S. District Judge Claria Horn Boom of the Eastern District of Kentucky and former U.S. District Judge John Gleeson of the Eastern District of New York were also tapped to be commissioners.

Judge Boom has been a judge and assistant U.S. attorney in both Kentucky's Eastern and Western Districts, according to the announcement.

Judge Gleeson was a federal judge for 22 years before joining Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in 2016 as a litigation partner in the firm's white collar and commercial litigation groups, according to his firm bio.

Biden's other nominations to the commission include Laura Mate, the director of Sentencing Resource Counsel; Claire McCusker Murray, former principal deputy associate attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice; and Candice C. Wong, an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia.

"I welcome President Biden's nominations of individuals to serve on the United States Sentencing Commission," the commission's acting chair, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer, said in a statement Wednesday. "I thank these nominees for their willingness to serve in this important capacity and look forward to a swift confirmation process." 

The Sentencing Commission is an independent agency charged with researching and developing sentencing guidelines for the federal courts, with an eye toward reducing sentencing disparities.

The commission is intended to have seven voting members, with at least three members being federal judges and no more than four from the same political party. Its commissioners are nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

But the commission has not had a quorum for several years, according to Berman, who called the nominations "long overdue."

"That creates extra pressure and extra challenges for their work, assuming they get confirmed," Berman said.

Judge Breyer noted in his statement that "courts have been left without uniform national sentencing standards relating to important sentencing decisions, particularly as it relates to compassionate release amid the COVID-19 pandemic." 

"A reconstituted Sentencing Commission is vital to ensuring fairness and effectiveness of federal sentencing guidelines and policy," he added.

Biden's predecessor Donald Trump was unable to confirm any members to the commission, likely because he didn't work with Senate leaders to put together a slate acceptable to both sides of the aisle, according to Berman.

"That's part of why this took a long time, is that that's kind of what you got to do," Berman said.

Berman said Biden's slate of nominees is likely to have better luck, as Senate leadership is "so eager to get this done and sees what a problem this is just as a matter of governance."

The commission and its sentencing guidelines got some public attention during the confirmation hearings for soon-to-be U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who has served on the commission before. So did retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, whose brother is its acting chair.

In November, Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced legislation that would add a member with a public defender background to the commission.

"The federal Sentencing Commission was created to be fair, impartial and capable of providing evidence-driven improvements to our sentencing system, which is fraught with disparities," Booker said at the time. "Adding a statutory member to the commission with a public defender background will ensure that the commission's ranks include this distinct and essential perspective on our criminal justice system, and thus bring us one step closer to a more balanced and just system."

Several of Biden's nominees declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

--Additional reporting by Max Jaeger and Y. Peter Kang. Editing by Alanna Weissman.

Hello! I'm Law360's automated support bot.

How can I help you today?

For example, you can type:
  • I forgot my password
  • I took a free trial but didn't get a verification email
  • How do I sign up for a newsletter?
Ask a question!