Handcuffing a prisoner to a hitching post for seven hours, denying him water, and then taunting him about his thirst as the summer sun beat down upon him was a “a cost-effective, safe and relatively pain-free way to impel inmates to work,” according to the Alabama Department of Corrections, and a brief filed by former Alabama Attorney General William Pryor (R) in 2002 called upon the Supreme Court to defer to this determination. Thanks to President George W. Bush, Pryor is now a federal appellate judge. And, if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) gets his way, he will soon have even more control over what kinds of punishments are doled out to federal defendants.
The powerful United States Sentencing Commission sets the federal sentencing guidelines which form the basis of most criminal sentencing handed down by federal judges. Although there are some constitutional limits
on the extent to which the Commission can increase federal sentences by
altering the Guidelines, they remain one of the most potent vehicles
for shaping federal sentences. Because no more than four of the Commission’s seven voting members
may belong to the same party, the President traditionally names three
members selected by leaders of his opposition party. According to the
White House, McConnell selected Pryor to hold one of the Republican Party’s three seats.