The leadership baton is passing at the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
The U.S. Senate late last week unanimously confirmed U.S. District Judge Patti Saris of Massachusetts as the commission’s new chair. She succeeds U.S. District Judge William Sessions III of Vermont.
Saris was nominated to the post last April by President Barack Obama. She will be joined by Commissioner Dabney Friedrich of Maryland, who also was confirmed on Dec. 23 to a second term.
"The Commission plays a critical role in the development and implementation of national sentencing policy, and I look forward to working on a guidelines system that is reflective of the principles of sentencing established by Congress," said Saris in a formal statement after her confirmation.
Saris, a Clinton appointee and a Harvard Law graduate, has served as a district judge for the District of Massachusetts since 1994. Before joining the ranks of federal judges, she was an associate justice for the Massachusetts Superior Court from 1989 to 1993. Saris, however, was no stranger to the federal court system before becoming a district judge. From 1986 to 1989, she served as a federal magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. She also was an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division from 1982 to 1986, and held the position of chief of the civil division, Office of the U. S. Attorney for Massachusetts, from 1984 to 1986. From 1979 until 1981, Saris served as staff counsel to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
Friedrich, a graduate of Yale Law School, has served on the commission since 2006, following her appointment by President George W. Bush. Before joining the commission, she served as an associate counsel at the White House. In 2002-2003, she was counsel to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) during his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. From 1995 until 2002, Friedrich was an assistant U.S. attorney in San Diego.
The Commission is composed of seven voting members and two nonvoting ex-officio members. No more than four commissioners may be members of the same political party, and at least three must be federal judges. Commissioner terms run for six years and a commissioner may serve no more than two full terms.