03.21.17

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy, On United States Sentencing Commission Nominations

Today the Senate will vote on two nominees to the United States Sentencing Commission who should have been confirmed last year.  Judge Danny Reeves was nominated more than one year ago and he was unanimously reported by the Judiciary Committee, yet Senate Republicans refused to approve him before the end of last year.  Judge Charles Breyer was nominated last September for a reappointment, and despite overwhelming support Republicans blocked him as well.  These are not controversial nominees and there is no good reason they were blocked last year.  In fact, in ordinary times these nominees would be unanimously confirmed during wrap up on the Senate floor. 

One nominee we are not considering today is Judge Richard Boulware, who President Obama nominated in 2015 to fill a seat on the Sentencing Commission previously held by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.  Judge Boulware was confirmed to serve as a district judge in June 2014, becoming the first African American man to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.  His nomination to the Sentencing Commission had the strong support of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which said that Judge Boulware would “bring a much needed and valuable perspective to the work of the Commission because of his experience.”  Judge Boulware clerked in the Southern District of New York, served as a Federal public defender, and represented the Las Vegas branch of the NAACP on a range of issues including voting rights, police cameras, and solitary confinement. 

Despite his clear qualifications, Senate Republicans blocked Judge Boulware and his nomination was returned to the White House at the end of last year.  President Trump renominated Judge Reeves and Judge Breyer, but I am disappointed that he failed to do the same for Judge Boulware.  The Sentencing Commission does not have a single person of color serving as a commissioner – yet its work on criminal justice issues has a significant effect on communities of color.  Judge Boulware should have been confirmed last year, along with Judge Reeves and Judge Breyer.  While I support the two nominees before us today, I want the Record to note my deep disappointment and concern that Judge Boulware is not among them.

For nearly a decade, I have worked with Senators from both parties on bipartisan legislation to reform our criminal justice system.  The Sentencing Commission has also studied the issue and brought about needed change to the sentencing guidelines.  The Bureau of Prisons continues to consume nearly a quarter of the Justice Department’s budget, even as violent crime rates have gone down.  But instead of taking meaningful steps to reduce these costs, the Trump-Sessions Justice Department has signaled it intends to more aggressively charge low level offenders with crimes carrying mandatory minimums.  And the Attorney General also lifted restrictions on the use of private prisons that serve only the interest of wealthy corporations.  This is deeply troubling on moral grounds – incarceration should not be a for-profit business.  And it is also troubling to me in my role as Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee.  Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars on private prisons, we should be directing our limited resources to train and protect officers on the streets and to reduce recidivism and crime.

The Sentencing Commission has brought much-needed fairness to the Guidelines in the past, and I hope it will continue to do so once its new members are confirmed.  Although we should also be voting today on Judge Boulware’s nomination to the Commission – rather we should have voted on it last year – I will support the nominations of Judge Breyer and Judge Reeves.

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