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Booker Rules

In United States v. Booker, the Supreme Court excised two provisions

of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (SRA) that had made the Sentencing Guidelines binding on sentencing judges: 18 U.S.C. § 3553(b),
the provision that had confined departures to specified, limited circumstances, and 18 U.S.C. § 3742(e), the standard of review under

which courts of appeals had enforced those limitations. The Court
made the law of sentencing the purposes and factors set forth in 18
U.S.C. § 3553(a), and the standard of review for all sentences, inside
or outside the guideline range, the “reasonableness” of the sentencing

judge’s application of that law.

The mandatory guidelines system Booker replaced was badly out of
balance in ways never contemplated by the framers of the SRA or the
Supreme Court when it upheld the U.S. Sentencing Commission

against separation-of-powers challenges. Yet Booker was initially met

with resistance by the Commission and the Department of Justice, and
many lower courts continued to treat the guidelines as “virtually mandatory.” In subsequent decisions, the Supreme Court firmly insisted

that the guidelines are—and must be—advisory only. The result has
been a gradual but marked improvement in the quality, transparency,
and rationality of federal sentencing, in both the sentencing of individual defendants and the Commission’s rulemaking. The advisory
guidelines system has broad support: the vast majority of federal judges
believe that advisory guidelines achieve the purposes of sentencing
better than any kind of mandatory guidelines system or no guidelines

at all, the Criminal Law Committee of the Judicial Conference of the

United States supports the advisory guidelines system, prosecutors

prefer advisory guidelines to other available options, and the organized

public and private defense bars support the advisory guidelines system.

Nevertheless, a former Chair of the Sentencing Commission and
the current Commission itself have each proposed that Congress enact
a Booker “fix.” Former Commission Chair Judge William K. Sessions III
proposes “the resurrection of presumptive (formerly called ‘mandatory’) guidelines,” with enhancing facts to be charged in an indictment
and proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt or admitted by the

The Commission proposes codification of a variety of
devices designed to give its guidelines, as well as its restrictions on non-guideline sentences, increased weight at sentencing, and to more

strictly enforce the guidelines on appeal. These proposals—seeking
to fix a system that, far from being broken, is actually working properly
for the first time—are unwise, unworkable, and likely unconstitutional.