Kennedy Commission

During the 2003 ABA Annual Meeting Opening Assembly, keynote speaker Justice Anthony Kennedy challenged the American Bar Association to evaluate the American penal system. The scope of Justice Kennedy's challenge was broad, implicating a number of criminal justice issues including mandatory minimum sentencing schemes, disparate sentencing rates among racial and ethnic groups, the availability of judicial discretion, prison conditions, correction practices, and objectives of incarceration. Justice Kennedy implored that we would be "startled" by "the hidden world of punishment."

President Archer immediately accepted Justice Kennedy's challenge, promising to build on existing ABA policy on these topics by undertaking a comprehensive evaluation of the matters implicated with a report to the American people by the time of the ABA Annual Meeting in August 2004. President Archer has convened a commission to undertake this study, with broad representation that includes federal and state prosecutors and defense counsel, federal and state judges, and practitioners with expertise in relevant areas of law. Input from federal and state correction officials, scholars and advocates who focus on these issues, and other interested parties will be solicited to ensure full participation.

From this process, a report with recommendations for policy will be presented to the ABA House of Delegates with five primary focus areas:

  1. Whether the use of mandatory minimum sentencing at the state and federal levels should be repealed, including evaluation of whether sentencing guidelines need to be revised and whether they have had an adverse impact on judicial discretion in sentencing;
  2. Why more than 60% of our 2.1 million prison population is people of color;
  3. Prison conditions, with, if necessary, recommendations for improving them;
  4. The reasons for high rates of recidivism, with recommendations for reducing them; and
  5. How the pardon process works at the state and federal levels and, if necessary, recommendations regarding the process.

These matters will necessarily implicate others, such as felon disenfranchisement, post incarceration housing and employment opportunities, and relationships between the branches of government regarding criminal justice issues.

Upon adoption of policy, the ABA will undertake a comprehensive lobbying effort to effect legislative and administrative policy in Washington and to assist state and local bars in organizing lobbying efforts in the states.

Press Release

Press Release

Kennedy Hearings

Kennedy Hearing Schedule

Justice Kennedy Commission Roster

November Hearing Witnesses

February Hearing Witnesses

For resolutions, please visit the Criminal Justice Section page.