Mistretta v. United States, 488 U.S. 361 (1989)

488 U.S. 361, 109 S. Ct. 647 (1989)



In determining what Congress may do in seeking assistance from another branch, the extent and character of that assistance must be fixed according to common sense and the inherent necessities of the government co-ordination. So long as Congress shall lay down by legislative act an intelligible principle to which the person or body authorized to exercise the delegated authority is directed to conform, such legislative action is not a forbidden delegation of legislative power. 


Petitioner and respondent both requested certiorari before judgment was rendered to consider the constitutionality of the Sentencing Guidelines promulgated by the United States Sentencing Commission. The trial court rejected petitioner's contention that the Act was unconstitutional. On appeal, petitioner's first contention was that Congress had granted the Commission excessive legislative discretion. The Supreme Court did not agree. 


Did the Congress grant excessive legislative discretion to the Commission?




The Sentencing Guidelines are constitutional, since Congress neither (1) delegated excessive legislative power to the Commission nor (2) violated the separation-of-powers principle by placing the Commission in the Judicial Branch, by requiring federal judges to serve on the Commission and to share their authority with nonjudges, or by empowering the President to appoint Commission members and to remove them for cause. The Constitution's structural protections do not prohibit Congress from delegating to an expert body within the Judicial Branch the intricate task of formulating sentencing guidelines consistent with such significant statutory direction as is present here, nor from calling upon the accumulated wisdom and experience of the Judicial Branch in creating policy on a matter uniquely within the ken of judges.

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