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Biden Names Seven to Restock US Sentencing Commission (1)

May 11, 2022, 2:00 PMUpdated: May 11, 2022, 6:25 PM

President Joe Biden announced a bipartisan slate of nominees to the US Sentencing Commission, which would give the panel its first quorum since 2019.

The list of seven nominees released Wednesday includes US District Judge Carlton W. Reeves of the Southern District of Mississippi who, if confirmed by the Senate, would be the first Black chair in the commission’s history.

The Sentencing Commission, which sets the framework federal judges use when deciding how to calculate criminal sentences, hasn’t had a quorum since January 2019. As a result, courts have relied on outdated guidance in areas like compassionate release requests that were filed at unprecedented levels during the pandemic.

Reeves, an Obama-appointee, gained notice for his 2019 criticism of Donald Trump’s comments about the judiciary. One of his most prominent decisions is his ruling striking down Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, which is the law at the center of the case in which the Supreme Court case appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.

By statute, the commission must be bipartisan and consist of at least three federal judges and no more than four members of each political party.

Biden’s planned nominees include three active judges and four attorneys. Of those nominees, two have experience as public defenders—a background Biden has prioritized for his judicial appointments as well.

Laura Mate previously served as an assistant federal public defender in the Western District of Washington. She is currently director of Sentencing Resource Counsel, which is a project of the Federal Public and Community Defenders in the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Arizona.

Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo, an Obama-appointee on the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, was an assistant federal public defender in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and assistant defender with the Defender Association of Philadelphia early in his career.

Both are nominated to be commissioners and vice chairs.

The other selections are:

  • Claire McCusker Murray, who served as principal deputy associate attorney general in the Trump Justice Department, to be vice chair and commissioner;
  • Claria Horn Boom, a Trump-appointed US district judge in Kentucky, to be commissioner;
  • John Gleeson, a partner at Debevoise and Plimpton LLP and former US district judge, to be commissioner; and
  • Candice Wong, an assistant US attorney in Washington, to be commissioner.

Both Restrepo and Boom were previously selected by Trump for the panel but their nominations lapsed at the end of the administration.

The commission gained attention during the March Senate confirmation hearings for soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was a vice chair of the panel between 2010 and 2014.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who Jackson will succeed, was also a member of the panel, and his brother, US District Judge Charles Breyer, is currently the commission’s acting chair and only member.

“I’m delighted with President Biden’s nominations,” Judge Breyer said in an interview. “It appears to be a panel of experienced and balanced nominees.”

The nominees would join the commission at a time when there is a lot of work to do, Breyer said. That work includes addressing Congressional requirements under the First Step Act, a bipartisan 2018 law that made changes to the criminal justice system, he said.

The commission’s absence of a quorum recently attracted the attention of two Supreme Court justices.

In denying a petition for review of a sentencing dispute, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was joined by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, underscored the need for an active commission to resolve issues that create divisions among circuits.

“I hope in the near future the Commission will be able to resume its important function in our criminal justice system,” Sotomayor wrote.

—with assistance from Kimberly Robinson

(Updates with additional reporting throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com