Brief Fact Summary. Congress enacted a determinate sentencing scheme for federal crimes and created the United States Sentencing Commission (the Commission) to devise guidelines that judges were obligated to use in sentencing.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Congress is not forbidden from delegating its legislative power to another person or entity if lays down an “intelligible principle” to which the person or entity is directed to conform.
Issue. May Congress delegate legislative authority to an independent judicial agency?
Held. Yes, the federal sentencing policy guidelines are constitutional.
Dissent. Justice Antonin Scalia (J. Scalia) thought that these alleged “guidelines” really have the force and effect of law because the judges have to follow them or else they will be reversed.
Discussion. Congress has the power to fix the sentences for crimes, and the scope of judicial sentencing discretion is subject to congressional control.
The Defendant’s first argument is that in delegation to the Commission of the power to fix the sentences for crimes, Congress had granted the Commission excess discretion in violation of the non-delegation doctrine. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) stated that Congress may obtain assistance from other branches of government. In determining whether Congress has impermissibly delegated its power to another branch of government, the Court applies the “intelligible principle” test. Even a broad delegation of power will be constitutionally sufficient if Congress clearly delineates three items: (1) the general policy; (2) the agency which is to apply it and (3) the boundaries of this delegated authority. The Supreme Court held that the test had been met in this case. Congress charged the Commission with several specific goals and purposes. Congress prescribed the specific tool (the guidelines system) for the Commission to apply and instructed the Commission how to st
ructure the guidelines.
The Defendant’s second argument is that the Act violates the separation of powers principles, but it does not because sentencing has never been the exclusive role of only once branch of government.