Bill Otis, “the arch-nemesis of criminal justice reform,” is one of four people nominated by the Trump administration for vacancies on the nonpartisan U.S. Sentencing Commission. The New Republic says Otis’ nomination could upset the balance of a body tasked with using data, not politics, to set sentencing policies.
In an article headlined “The Man Who Hates Criminal Justice Reform,” The New Republic profiles Bill Otis, a former federal prosecutor and special counsel to President George H.W. Bush who has been nominated by President Trump to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Otis is a sharp critic of the criminal justice reform movement in America.
Last year, the Georgetown adjunct law professor told NPR that mandatory-minimum sentences were a “big success,” citing the drop-off in crime since the 1980s.
He was even more blunt in the Crime and Consequences blog:
“Q: Where do the ideas behind sentencing reform lead?” he asked last February. “A: To the morgue.”
And don’t get him started on racial disparities in imprisonment. “They are NOT caused by racism,” he wrote in a 2013 blog post.
“They are caused by making choices. Of course the question is then asked: Well, why do blacks make, proportionately speaking, more criminal choices than whites? Isn’t that because of the damaging effects of white people’s racial bigotry? And the answer, which we must not hesitate to give, is ‘no.’”
Kevin Ring, the president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, calls Otis an ideologue and “the arch-nemesis of criminal justice reform.”
The seven-member sentencing commission was created by Congress in 1984 precisely so it could avoid politicized battles when crafting federal sentencing guidelines. Otis’s nomination could upset that balance. Its main function is to draft and revise federal sentencing guidelines, which aim to impose a degree of uniformity on federal criminal sentences nationwide.
It has been able to reduce thousands of sentences for non-violent federal prisoners. The commission also functions as a clearinghouse of sorts for criminal justice data and statistical reports.
See also Otis’ Op Ed in The Crime Report, “Memo to Lynch: Reach Out to your opponents.