an extensive background on federal sentencing, U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of
Appeals Judge Bill Pryor suggested state and federal criminal systems not be
viewed as different entities, but as complimentary bodies that should utilize
each other’s experience for the benefit of the whole.
to the Federalist Society for Law and Public Students at Cumberland School of
Law, of which Judge Pryor formerly was an adjunct professor, Pryor told the
student that prior to 1987, federal sentencing was done at the discretion of a
judge which was heavily criticized for a number of reasons, including the
general unfairness in sentence length issued by “tough” and “soft” judges; as
well as the disparities between race and socioeconomic status.
a result, he suggested, Congress created the United States Sentencing
Commission, which created the mandatory federal sentencing guidelines. These
new rules made judges sentence within a prescribed time frame (i.e. 3-6 months,
10-15 years, etc…). In extreme cases, a judge could depart from the guidelines
but he or she had to state an opinion as to why.
2005, the Supreme Court decided in United States v. Booker, to make mandatory
sentencing guidelines strictly advisory which brings back some of the original
criticism that sentencing discretion is often inconsistent and arbitrary. Pryor
said in his view, two criminals committing the same crime deserve a similar
the United States Sentencing Commission is in charge of research on sentencing
guidelines and proposing new ideas to fix the inconsistencies created by Booker.
Pryor suggests that the agency could reform the current inconsistency in sentencing
guidelines by looking to a basic tenant from our countries founding:
suggests the commission invest time and resource into investigating all 50
states sentencing guidelines. “These 50 ‘laboratories’ are in a better position
to monitor criminal law for two main reasons,” he suggested.
states administer the bulk of all criminal law, according to Pryor, and are in
an excellent position to see how their sentencing guidelines effect
rehabilitation, deterrence, etc...
he suggested, the states have more incentive to find practical solutions. He
noted that the federal system receives nearly unlimited funding while the state
systems have to balance their budgets; consequently, because states have to pay
for it they have more of a vested interest in creating understandable, fair
rules of law to prevent their court systems from backing up and their prisons
Pryor maintained that each state’s budget permeates everything from how to best
utilize its police force to how to rehabilitate and integrate their prisoners
upon release. “Sentencing guidelines have a profound effect on, over or under
punishing criminals and that directly relates to the effectiveness of their
criminal justice system,” he said.
A magna cum laude graduate of the Tulane Law School,
Pryor was editor in chief of the Tulane Law Review and later served as a law clerk for
Judge John Minor Wisdom of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Following his judicial
clerkship, he engaged in a private litigation practice in Birmingham and, for
six years, served as an adjunct professor here at Cumberland. Currently, he is
an adjunct professor at the University Of Alabama School Of Law
In 1997, Judge Pryor served as Attorney General of
Alabama and was the youngest Attorney General in the United States at the time.
In 2005, U.S. President George W. Bush appointed him to the Eleventh Circuit
Court of Appeals. Judge Pryor is a member
of the Federalist Society
Society for Law and Public Policy Studies is a group of conservatives and
libertarians interested in the current state of the legal order. The
Society seeks both to promote an awareness of its principles and to further
their application through its activities.