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In looking for answers to my question, it seems like the approach I'm going for is wrong, as setting a user process to a negative nice value can lead to some conflict with system processes. Better to limit other user-space processes' resource usage than to increase a single user process's priority into the system process space.

That said, if anyone else is trying to do this in the future, it should be possible to add a rule in /etc/security/limits.conf to allow user-space procresses to have negative nice values without sudo (but I haven't tested this.)