Thursday, November 20, 2008

Advice for Obama Re Pardons

The National Law Journal features an extensive interview with former U.S. Pardon Attorney Margaret Colgate Love. Here are some highlights:
NJ: How would the pardon process function in your ideal world?

Love: My first choice would be to keep the pardon process in the Department of Justice. But the key thing is that it has to be more independent than it has been in the last 30 years. It has become... captive to the agenda of the prosecutors in the department. Unless it could be made independent within the department, then it's never really going to serve the president in the way it should.

NJ: I know you take a dim view of speculation about which well-connected or celebrity convict -- Marion Jones' name has been floated -- will get a pardon. Does that theater have any value, though, since it keeps the pardon process in the public eye? Or does it cheapen the privilege?

Love: Well, I think it would be preferable, in my view, if the president used the power more regularly to benefit ordinary people and he used it to help the public understand how the justice system works. It's not just a special favors-dispensing system. It really is something that helps the system work more justly. And so I think it's kind of distracting when you get a lot of celebrities who are applying who would not ordinarily be eligible under the Department of Justice's own regulations. It's just distracting, and I think it's a missed opportunity, frankly, to help the public to understand about how the justice system works. It's also a missed opportunity, I think, to tell the good news about the justice system. How people can commit crimes and go off the track and yet they can put their lives back together and rehabilitate themselves. Those are good-news stories.

NJ: Let's say Obama was committed to using pardon for the lofty goals you've mentioned. Considering the bad rap the pardon process has developed in the last few decades, how would you advise him to go about reviving the pardon tradition?

Love: I would advise him to start pardoning pretty much right away. Give pardon to little people who are not particularly controversial, just ordinary people who have cases that fit within the Justice Department guidelines. I would also recommend that he do some grants that show some of the problems that people face in trying to rehabilitate themselves coming back to the community.

See full text of interview here.

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