The dissenters complained about making the guidelines advisory and warned it will result in a return to sentencing disparities. Justice Antonin Scalia said the ruling will “wreak havoc” in the courts for the indefinite future.
Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray told reporters the Justice Department was disappointed in the decision. “In the wake of this ruling, judges have greater discretion,” he said. “Greater discretion tends to mean greater disparity.”
Several brief thoughts on this:
- Sentencing guidelines have always struck me as a disingenuous back door method for Congress to achieve something they are afraid to do directly – raise or lower sentences. The range of potential sentences is fixed for each crime, so if Congress wants, for example, longer sentences for drug dealers the correct approach would be to increase the sentence for the crime.
The proper role of judges. It seems to me that the proper role of judges is to exercise discretion, that is judgment in the cases brought before them. Juries determine guilt, the law determines the possible punishments and the judge exercises his judgment to apply the proper punishment. Judges aren’t on the bench to write laws but they are not on the bench as mere decoration either. They are there to apply the law and reason to the cases brought before them.
Unequal results. Should results be so unequal as to create 14th Amendment issues, deal with that. However, different crimes in different circumstances may warrant different responses. The mere prospect that one defendant may receive a lighter sentence from one judge than another defendant receives from another is not sufficient reason to turn federal judges into mere automatons rubber stamping predetermined decisions.
Okay, maybe not so brief…