Criminal Justice

Trump Nominates Man Who Called for Abolishing U.S. Sentencing Commission to U.S. Sentencing Commission

Bill Otis has made a career out of opposing any reductions to mandatory minimum sentences.



President Donald Trump has nominated former prosecutor and current Georgetown Law adjunct professor William Otis to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a body that Otis once said should be abolished.

Otis is a notorious opponent of attempts to roll back mandatory minimum sentences and mass incarceration. He's a familiar face to anyone who's followed debate on the issue, mostly because he's often the only person news outlets and conference organizers can still find who's willing to speak out bluntly in support of mandatory minimums.

"Two facts about crime and sentencing dwarf everything else we've learned for the last 50 years," Otis said at a 2014 Federalist Society gathering. "When we have more prison, we have less crime. And when we have less prison, we have more crime."

Otis' appointment to the U.S. Sentencing Commission—a bipartisan, independent agency within the judiciary responsible for articulating federal sentencing guidelines—drew reactions of horror and condemnation from criminal justice advocates.

"Bill Otis is a terrible choice," says Jason Pye, the vice president of legislative affairs at FreedomWorks, a conservative organization that has supported criminal justice reform. "Really, anyone who approaches criminal justice policy with an antiquated worldview is a bad choice for such an important post."

Jonathan Blanks, a research associate at the Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice, says Trump's nomination of Otis "signals another step back into the discredited 'tough on crime' policies of the 1980s."

"Otis's support of lengthy mandatory minimum sentences is outdated and counterproductive to effective criminal justice policy," Blanks continues. "If confirmed, my hope is that Mr. Otis makes himself familiar with the reams of data that undermine his previously expressed positions on the efficacy of mandatory minimum sentencing."

The choice is also interesting because Otis once said the commission should be scrapped altogether.

"Pending repeal and replacement of the [Sentencing Reform Act of 1984], Congress should abolish the Sentencing Commission," Otis testified at a 2011 House Judiciary Committee hearing. "By far the most important purpose for which it was created no longer exists—to write binding rules for district courts to use in sentencing. It does have some secondary functions—for example, to study possible statutory improvements, as well as gather and publish statistics about sentencing practices—but when its core function has been demoted to making increasingly ignored non-rules, it's time to turn the page."

Otis also played a role in efforts to scuttle the Smarter Sentencing Act, a 2014 sentencing reform bill and a precursor to the current bipartisan legislation moving through the Senate.

As a lengthy 2015 Slate profile explained, Otis thinks giving judges leeway to depart from mandatory minimum sentences is just a way to coddle violent criminals. And when that happens, his logic goes, crime rises.

Otis has warned time and time again over his career that criminal justice reforms would lead to chaos in the streets, but as Julie Stewart, the founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, wrote in Reason in 2015, he has been wrong over and over. For example, when Congress reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, Otis predicted the bill, which he dubbed the "Crack Dealers Relief Act," would result in "misery" once thousands of crack dealers would be "put back on the street prematurely."

Stewart writes:

Fortunately for those of us concerned about public safety, Otis was wrong again—amazingly wrong. Since passage of the [Fair Sentencing Act (FSA)], the crime rate, the prison population, and crack usage are all down! It bears repeating. Otis said the changes would cause "misery" and "inevitably lead to more crime." Instead, while thousands of offenders have received fairer sentences, the crime rate has fallen, crack use is down, and taxpayers have saved millions from being wasted on unnecessary prison costs.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission found that crack offenders who got shorter sentences because of the FSA reoffended at slightly lower rates than crack offenders who served their full-length sentences. Again: less prison time, more public safety.

"Otis is impervious to facts and evidence," Warren concluded.

If confirmed by the Senate, Otis will bring that dedication to facts and evidence to a commission he wishes didn't exist at all.

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  1. Christ, what an asshole.

    1. I’ve been saying that every day lately when I sit in front of my computer.

      1. before I looked at the check 4 $4494 , I have faith that my father in law could really erning money part time from there pretty old laptop. . there sisters neighbour haz done this 4 less than fifteen months and resantly repayed the depts on there mini mansion and got a top of the range Cadillac . visit this page


    2. Which asshole — the asshole chosen or the asshole who chose him?

  2. “When we have more prison, we have less crime. And when we have less prison, we have more crime.”

    If this is the case, then obviously, everybody should be in prison. For the children.

    1. I believe there is statistical evidence of a correlation between the increase in incarceration rates and the decrease in crime rates. You can argue whether the outcome justifies the policy, but there is at leaast evidence of a connection.

      1. Very weak evidence.

        There is a much stronger connection between crime rates and demographics.

        Specifically, based on the FBI’s UCR, 80% – 90% of all crime is committed by individuals in the 18-35 year old range. Crime is a game for the young.

        For the entire time that crime rates have been going down over the last several decades, the average age of the US population has been increasing (thanks in no small part to the baby boomers and subsequent baby bust). Relatively fewer 18-35 year-olds = lower crime rates.

        1. There’s also plenty to be said re: shifting standard of living in much the same way rape, porn, unwanted pregnancy, violence surrounding drug use, etc. have kinda curtailed.

          Four blank walls and nothing but a deck of cards and an old porno mag can make stealing a color TV look pretty good. When you have to turn off Netflix and put your iPhone down, log off pornhub and the free Wi-Fi, then stealing the equivalently-valued 60″ TV seems less tempting.

        2. “There is a much stronger connection between crime rates and demographics.”

          Ruh Roh!

  3. I wanna see him debate Milo on minimum sentences for gay men that seduce teenagers. Who is interested in a Milo and Otis debate?

    1. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

      Now get me some goddamn Cracker Jacks.

  4. One less federal expense.
    Appointing people to lead agencies that those people oppose is an excellent way to get rid of those agencies.

  5. Is anyone distinguishing between mandatory minimums for recidivist violent felons and mandatory minimums for other offenses? Or will this degenerate into an either/or debate between overincarceration and criminal-coddling?

    1. Oh, and is anyone trying to put limits on prosecutorial discretion to effectively set the sentence based on the charges they file and the plea deals they negotiate?

  6. Do we really want to put forth an argument that the only people who agree with the mission of a government commission should be allowed to serve on the commission just because we disagree with this particular person’s position?

    Would you accept that argument for a nominee to the FCC, say?

    1. The top half of this article is about how Otis is a bad appointment because he still supports mandatory minimums.

      1. And what is the headline?

  7. Trump Nominates Man Who Called for Abolishing U.S. Sentencing Commission to U.S. Sentencing Commission

    To be fair, look what happened when they created a “10 year plan to eliminate homelessness.”

    1. That’s twice the usual time.

    2. What does a local 10 year plan on homelessness have to do with a national sentencing commission?

      Your “look what happened when they” might actually make sense if you were talking about the same they, but your not even close.

      1. With the competence of government officials, I predict that if his goal was to eliminate sentencing reform, sentencing reform will be flourishing.

        1. “The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies. ”

          This nomination simply validates the assumption.

  8. “Trump Nominates Man Who Called for Abolishing U.S. Sentencing Commission to U.S. Sentencing Commission”

    Funny for Reason to be bitching that Trump wants to appoint someone who wants to remove a government agency to that government agency.

    Isn’t that usually Reason’s wet dream?

    I also notice that Reason is against clear sentencing rules, and wants sentences to be determined by the capricious whimsy of judicial authoritarians.

    Reason: Arbitrary Government Power R Us

    The Progressitarian rot continues to spread through Reason.

    1. There appear to be plenty of faux libertarians ready to combat that rot by advocating right-wing bigotry, authoritarianism, and backwardness at Reason.

      1. “When in doubt, shriek ‘Racist!’, and hope no one notices that you don’t have an argument”

        1. Damn right!
          To quote Lucy van Pelt “If you can’t be right, be wrong at the top of your voice”.

        2. One of the great achievements of America’s liberal-libertarian alliance during my lifetime is that racists, misogynists, xenophobes, gay-bashers, and the like no longer wish to be known as bigots, at least not publicly. In the time of my youth, the intolerance was open, and casual, and common — sometimes violent — and the bigots wanted everyone to know that they were bigots and that their way was the proper way and the only way.

          Today’s bigots are less straightforward. They tend to hide behind terms such as “colorblind,” or “post-racial,” or “traditional values,” and to claim that their bigotry is something other than ugly intolerance.

          The long-term arc of American progress is great, and often directly counter to conservative preferences.

          1. One of the great achievements of America’s liberal-libertarian alliance

            There is no such alliance.

            during my lifetime is that racists, misogynists, xenophobes, gay-bashers, and the like no longer wish to be known as bigots, at least not publicly.

            Oh, you got that backwards. I used to be horrified when people called me “racist, misogynist, xenophobe, gay-basher”, but I’m starting to embrace those labels… as a gay immigrant myself.

            And the reason is simple: American liberals have changed the meaning of those labels. According to American liberals, I’m a “racist” because I prefer Northern European protestant culture to Muslim culture, I’m a “misogynist” because I think there are biological and psychological differences between men and women that lead to different outcomes, I’m a “xenophobe” because I don’t want my former compatriots to migrate to the US en masse, and I’m a “gay-basher” because I think gay marriage is a bad idea and don’t want bakers to be forced to bake cakes they don’t want to bake.

            Guilty as charged.

  9. People I have engage with on blogs are now being nominated to the Trump Administration. It’s a bit weird.

    I found this guy a true believer troll at times though at least he didn’t try to convince me that polygamy and incestual marriage was easier to defend as a constitutional right than same sex marriage and now is helping to try to deny abortion rights to teenagers.

    Another guy nominated in this bunch has been labeled “hang em harry” or something. OTOH, one of the four is a former defense attorney that was put on the bench by Obama.

  10. Jonathan Blanks, a research associate at the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice, says Trump’s nomination of Otis “signals another step back into the discredited ‘tough on crime’ policies of the 1980s.”

    “Discredited” = “I can state no factual basis for rejecting it, but lots of my learned colleagues don’t like it”

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