Noncourt Entities in the Judicial Branch

Passing on the constitutionality of the establishment of the Sentencing Commission as an “independent” body in the judicial branch, the Court acknowledged that the Commission is not a court and does not exercise judicial power. Rather, its function is to promulgate binding sentencing guidelines for federal courts. It acts, therefore, legislatively, and its membership of seven is composed of three judges and three nonjudges. But the standard of constitutionality, the Court held, is whether the entity exercises powers that are more appropriately performed by another branch or that undermine the integrity of the judiciary. Because the imposition of sentences is a function traditionally exercised within congressionally prescribed limits by federal judges, the Court found the functions of the Commission could be located in the judicial branch. Nor did performance of its functions contribute, in any meaningful way, to a weakening of the judiciary or an aggrandizement of power, the Court observed.138

Footnotes

138
Mistretta v. United States, 488 U.S. 361, 384–97 (1989). Clearly, some of the powers vested in the Special Division of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit under the Ethics in Government Act in respect to the independent counsel were administrative, but because the major nonjudicial power, the appointment of the independent counsel, was specifically authorized in the appointments clause, the additional powers were miscellaneous and could be lodged there by Congress. Implicit in the Court’s analysis was the principle that a line exists that Congress may not cross. Morrison v. Olson, 487 U.S. 654, 677–685 (1988). [Back to text]