Published on: Monday, August 17, 2020

For the entirety of the Trump Administration, the United States Sentencing Commission has lacked a full slate of seven Commissioners.  The Commission last proposed amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines on December 13, 2018.  But since the start of 2019, the Commission has had only two of seven Commissioners and lacked a quorum to complete any formal business, such as promulgating amendments in response to the First Step Act.  On August 12, 2020, the White House announced its intent to appoint five new sentencing Commissioners, available here.  Just two days later, Families Against Mandatory Minimums sent a letter to Senate Judicary Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham, and ranking member Sen. Diane Feinstein urging them to refrain from filling vacancies on the U.S. Sentencing Commission until next year when the nominees can be properly vetted by the committee.  Here is part of FAMM President Kevin Ring's letter: 

The Senate’s role in shaping the composition of the U.S. Sentencing Commission has never been more important. The commission will play a vital role in the continued implementation of the First Step Act. The Senate must carefully consider whether nominees will faithfully implement the new reforms passed by Congress or whether they will seek to curtail them. In addition, the commission must address a federal prison system that has been overwhelmed by the spread of COVID-19. The deaths to date of 112 federal prisoners and at least one staff member compel serious reflection about various aspects of the federal prison system, including sentence lengths and early release mechanisms, over which the commission has some authority.

Finally, the committee must ensure that nominees to the Sentencing Commission are dedicated to addressing racial discrimination in our justice system. The commission promulgates guidelines that are used to set prison terms for approximately 70,000 individuals of all races and backgrounds every year. The legitimacy of those guidelines rests, in part, on the reasonable belief that the commissioners’ decisions are driven by data and evidence, not bias and ideology. We believe that one important step the Senate can take to promote confidence in the commission’s work is to make sure that its members have diverse backgrounds, as well as varied life and work experiences.

Only seven individuals serve on the commission. Each one is important. Given the stakes, especially at this moment, the Senate must thoroughly examine each nominee before that person is awarded a six-year term. Because there is not enough time left in this session to undertake this careful consideration, we strongly urge you to delay filling the commission’s vacant seats until January.