Last week, Federal District Judge Carlton Reeves was confirmed as a member and chairman of the United States Sentencing Commission. His confirmation will enable the commission, which had been understaffed for eight years, to resume its work of reviewing and recommending federal sentencing guidelines.
Judge Reeves, a resident of Yazoo City, comes to the position as a well-qualified and experienced attorney and judge. His magna cum laude graduation from Jackson State University and from the University of Virginia School of Law enables him to understand the culture and background of many marginalized victims and litigants involved in the federal system, while at the same time having an understanding of and appreciation for the broader legal system.
The United States Sentencing Commission, as an independent judicial body, can go a long way toward helping promote justice and fairness in the system for prosecuted individuals. Prior to the commission’s establishment, judges had almost unimaginable discretion in sentencing. It became such that many lost faith and respect for the judiciary. With it being back to full strength, perhaps it can establish sentencing guidelines that will help restore that respectability.
It is particularly with that thought in mind that we highly praise the elevation of Judge Reeves to the chairmanship of the commission. He is not a “run of the mill” or “fly by night” member of the bench. Since his confirmation to the federal bench in 2010, Reeves has clearly solidified himself in the minds of Mississippians, as well as others on the judiciary around the country, that he is comprehensive, competent, and courageous as a judge. Whether he was dealing with governmental entities or private individuals, the powerful or the marginalized, when cases have come before him, he has been just and impressive in his rulings.
In the case of the U.S. vs. Butler, Reeves did not just preside over the case wherein a group of white youngsters beat and killed a Black man named James Craig Anderson; he meted out appropriate sentences. He also provided an accompanying civics and history lesson for those attending the trial, along with the guilty parties. There was no concern about critical race theory accusations. He simply discussed how their actions reflected much of America’s dark history. In the cases of Campaign for Southern Equity vs. Bryant and Barber vs. Bryant, he stood in the gap, effectively asserting the rights of unpopular groups who had been targeted by Mississippi state government. In the cases of Moore vs. Bryant and Jamison vs. McClendon, although he upheld the positions of the law, he was not hesitant in stating that the laws in those instances needed to have been correctively addressed in order for full justice to have been achieved.
In similar instances, Reeves has come down on the side of the law wherein inmates and citizens have been negatively impacted by state institutions in ways that were embarrassing and burdensome to Black administrators. These instances, however, only help make the case that Reeves is comprehensive, competent, and courageous in his rulings and view of the law.
In similar fashion, Reeves’ insight and courage were on display in April of 2019 when he severely criticized then President Donald Trump for his attacks on the judiciary. He questioned Trump’s respect for the law and called upon other judges to defend the independence of the judiciary. Reeves is clearly a judge who not only comes from the people. He is at one with the people.
In a manner similar to Congressman Bennie Thompson, Reeves’ academic prowess and requisite experiences serve as effective shields against attacks from those who feel the sting of his rulings. Not only did he graduate magna cum laude in political science and then from a prestigious law school, he served in the very successful law firms of Pigott, Reeves and Johnson, PA and Phelps Dunbar. Secondly, as Assistant Attorney General, he was Chief of the Civil Division for the Southern District of Mississippi. Thirdly, he served on the Department of Justice Civil Chiefs Working Group and was awarded a Certificate of Commendation from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. In other words, his credentials are impeccable.
While some of his rulings have been ultimately reversed by the current ultra conservative Supreme Court, one can rest assured that his influence will be noteworthy for years to come, both because he is operating in the Southern District of Mississippi where many significant cases are sure to rise and also because of the wisdom that he will lend to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
Congratulations to Judge Carlton Reeves. He is another excellent exhibit of the continuing value of historically Black colleges and universities.