Racial disparities in sentencing for federal crimes have long plagued Black communities more than any other group. Yet there’s never been a Black person at the helm of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a federal agency tasked specifically with addressing those gaps and the biases that caused them.
In fact, the commission itself has languished for the past three years, with multiple unfilled seats, preventing the group from furthering its work. Soon, though, the commission could once again reach a quorum and also be led by a Black man for the first time in its history, if a new slate of nominees is approved by the Senate.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday nominated seven people to the commission, including Judge Carlton W. Reeves, currently a judge on the U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of Mississippi. He would be the first Black chairman of the commission in its 38-year history.
Reeves is an HBCU alumnus, earning his undergraduate degree from Jackson State University. He got his law degree from the University of Virginia. His legal career spans being a partner at a law firm to being chief of the civil division for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi until he was appointed to his current position by President Barack Obama in 2010.
Others nominated for the commission include Laura Mate, who is currently director of the Sentencing Resource Counsel; Claire McCusker Murray, former Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General in the Trump administration; Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals Judge for the Third Circuit; Judge Claria Horn Boom, who sits on the U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky; John Gleeson, a former federal judge who is currently a partner at Debevoise and Plimpton LLP in New York and Candace Wong, a federal prosecutor who Chief of the Violence Reduction and Trafficking Offenses Section in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.
All will require Senate confirmation.
These days, the U.S. Sentencing Commission is most closely associated with its most famous former member, Supreme Court Justice-designee Ketanji Brown Jackson. But the commission dates back to the Reagan Administration as a bipartisan body made up of experienced attorneys and jurists who make recommendations about how convictions for federal crimes should be adjudicated.
The commission’s work largely formed the basis of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which repealed wide disparities between sentences for crimes involving crack and those involving powder cocaine. The commission’s work was also critical to the passage of the First Step Act of 2018, a law Trump signed that retroactively reduced sentences for many nonviolent drug offenders.