A man President Donald Trump chose to sit on the federal sentencing commission has long advocated harsher punishments and apparently believes the U.S. prison population is too small; he also believes some races are inherently more criminal than others.
In several public testimonies and years of published commentary, [William] Otis decried a criminal justice system that he says has favored criminals over victims. He hailed the tough-on-crime approach of the Reagan and Bush administrations — one that Trump, through his attorney general, is resurrecting. “Increased use of incarceration and reining in naive judges,” he once told NPR, “has worked” to curtail crime.
The appointment is not shocking, considering that the Trump administration has signaled on more than one occasion its desire to return the United States to the failed drug policies of the 1980s and 90s.
Last May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed federal prosecutors to pursue the most severe penalties possible, including mandatory minimum sentences — a move that Otis praised.
“It was right then and it’s right now,” Otis wrote on a popular legal blog. “It amounts to telling prosecutors to charge what the defendant actually did. This is so obviously correct — aligning the allegations with the facts — that I have a hard time seeing any serious objection to it.”
Otis's push for harsher sentences and affinity for jailing people goes hand-in-hand with racist beliefs about non-White Americans. On his blog, 'Crime and Consequences', Otis writes about the
“Thus, when Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Jones said at a University of Pennsylvania Law School talk that blacks and Hispanics are more violent than whites, a consortium of civil rights organizations filed a complaint,” Otis wrote. “The complaint calls for stern discipline on the grounds that the remarks were ‘discriminatory and biased.’ ”
He added, “So far as I have been able to discover, it makes no mention of the fact that they’re true.”
“Orientals have less incidence of crime than whites. … The reason Orientals stay out of jail more than either whites or blacks is that family, life, work, education and tradition are honored more in Oriental culture than in others. Values, not race or skin color, influence choices.”
Otis also fits one of the Trump administration themes when it comes to appointing officials -- in the past Otis has called for the abolition of the very commission he has been nominated to serve.
The sentencing commission, Otis said, became a toothless agency after the Supreme Court turned a mandatory sentencing regime into an advisory one. The high court’s 2005 ruling on United States v. Booker gave judges wider discretion and allowed them to impose sentences that are outside what the commission’s sentencing guidelines recommend. According to the Justice Department, the Booker decision resulted in decreased sentences for defendants who have the most serious criminal records.
The commission, Otis said, turned from “the 900-pound gorilla of sentencing law” that wrote binding rules to an “overfed lemur” that has far outlasted its purpose.
Otis is one of four people Trump appointed to the U.S. Sentencing Commission who must be confirmed by the Senate.