More than 30 years ago, Congress identified what it said was a grave threat to the American promise of equal justice for all: Federal judges were giving wildly different punishments to defendants who had committed the same crimes.
The worries were many. Some lawmakers feared lenient judges were giving criminals too little time in prison. Others suspected African-American defendants were being unfairly sentenced to steeper prison terms than white defendants.
In 1984, Congress created the U.S. Sentencing Commission with remarkable bipartisan support. The commission would set firm punishment rules, called “guidelines,” for every offense. The measure, signed by President Ronald Reagan, largely stripped federal judges of their sentencing powers; they were now to use a chart to decide penalties for each conviction, with few exceptions.
[For more on this story by Ryan Gabrielson, go to https://www.propublica.org/art...-criminal-sentencing]