President Donald Trump announced four nominees to the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) Thursday, three of whom are advocates of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tough-on-crime policies.
Trump and Sessions appeared to have a falling out Wednesday when the president called his handling of the FISA investigation “disgraceful.” Sessions then pushed back against the insult, saying he was presiding over the Department of Justice (DOJ) and its investigations in a constitutional manner. Trump was allowed to nominate three Republicans and one Democrat to the USSC, and all three Republicans – Judge Henry Hudson, William Graham Otis, and Judge William Pryor – are Sessions allies.
Of particular note is Judge Hudson, known colloquially in Virginia as Henry “Hang ’em High” Hudson. Sessions recommended Hudson for the USSC in August 2017 and has now gotten his wish.
Hudson had also been a candidate for FBI director after former Director James Comey’s removal, and he has a consistently conservative record, ruling in 2010 that parts of the Affordable Care Act were unconstitutional. Hudson’s main purpose on the commission would be to push for mandatory minimum sentencing. Sessions already issued an order to federal prosecutors in spring 2017 to pursue the harshest possible sentences in every case.
Under former President Barack Obama, the USSC had reduced sentencing for drug offenders, allowing more than 30,000 to apply for shortened sentences. This was not an uncommon move, however, as states across the country pursued soft-sentencing reform under Obama and many have continued to do so under the Trump administration.
According to Holly Harris, executive director of the Justice Action Network, Sessions has been the singular obstacle to criminal justice reform in the Trump administration.
“The rest of the administration is headed in the right direction on criminal justice reform,” Harris told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “I think he [Trump] is learning about what is really ‘tough on crime’ and what actually lowers recidivism rather than just the traditional lock ’em up and throw away the key.”
Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner leads the administration’s justice reform efforts and has repeatedly butted heads with Sessions. The two appeared to reach a compromise in January in which the administration would back prison reform but hold off on sentencing reform.
Trump supported that theory in January when he declared prison reform a top priority during his State of the Union address but didn’t mention sentencing. The White House also signaled Wednesday that wouldn’t support Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley’s sentencing reform bill because the administration doesn’t believe the votes are there, The Hill reported.
“The sentencing reform part still does not have a pathway forward to getting done,” a senior White House official said. “And so what we see now is an environment where the prison reform does have enough support to get done. And we think that by maybe doing this in smaller bits and pushing the prison reform now, we think this has a better chance of getting done.”
Now, Trump’s appointment of the three Sessions allies to the USSC only further implies that Sessions is having his way on sentencing reform for now.
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