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U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, is shown in this photograph taken June 11, 2021, in Greenville, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves of the Southern District of Mississippi has been nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Reeves will be the first African American to serve as chair of the group that was created in the 1980s to reduce sentencing disparities and promote transparency in criminal sentencing.

Reeves, who has presided over several monumental civil rights cases at the federal level, previously served as a Mississippi Supreme Court clerk, as chief of the civil division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi and in private practice for multiple years.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi’s sole African American and Democratic member of Congress, praised the appointment this week on social media.

“I support the appointment of Judge Carlton Reeves on being named head of the United States Sentencing Commission,” Thompson said. “It is a pleasure to witness the first Black judge to be appointed chair of the commission.”

Reeves is the second African American appointed as a judge in the Southern District of Mississippi. He was nominated in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama.

The Sentencing Commission consists of seven members, but has not had enough members since 2019 to function. That inability to function has caused concern among members of the judiciary since federal judges across the nation rely on the commission’s work to set sentencing guidelines.

The membership of the commission must include three federal judges. No more than four members can be of the same political party.

As a federal judge, Reeves has handled some of the most high-profile cases in Mississippi, including the trial and ultimate conviction of three young white men for brutally murdering a Black man in 2011. He also issued the ruling that legalized gay marriage in Mississippi, has heard numerous cases seeking to limit abortion access in the state, and has been overseeing a challenge to the constitutionality of the state’s mental health system.


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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.