Monday, April 27, 2009
100 days into his own administration, Barack Obama has not granted a single pardon or commutation of sentence. As a result, at this point, there doesn't appear to be much "hope and change" for the thousands of clemency applicants who were ignored in the administrations of Clinton and Bush (See chart here). On the other hand, Mr. Obama continues to "make history." He is already among the Nation's slowest presidents (see chart here) and, in a matter of weeks, his administration will be a mere generic extension of the Clinton / Bush era of clemency controversy and neglect.
Of course, for all we know, Mr. Obama may wind up granting more pardons and commutations of sentence than any president in history. There is plenty of time left for all of that. But the fact remains that the longer he waits to exercise the pardon power, the more of an afterthought it will appear to be. And, if he decides to spit out pardons in the month of December and in the last year of the term, clemency will continue to be viewed as a "gift," especially for partisan supporters, cronies and those with access to the White House in the chaotic last days of an administration.
Meanwhile, thousands of individuals who have served their time, taken care of fines and have been productive members of society for years sit, waiting on the Department of Justice, the Office of the Pardon Attorney and the President to allow them to once again have the right to vote, run for public office, serve on a jury or own a firearm. They are not properly viewed as standing in line for a "gift." They are best described as unnecessarily waiting for what they well deserve: justice. The only civics lesson they are learning is that politicians have the energy, political will and resources to "crack down" and convict, but lack the time or wit to mail a single piece of paper saying, "enough is enough."
It is so important to understand that the inexcusable backlog of federal clemency applications is not the by-product of carefully pursued policy, or even ideology. It is not a monument to retribution, deterrence or incapacitation. It is simply the byproduct of failed institutions and complacency. It is universally recognized that the Office of the Pardon Attorney is understaffed. There are additional reasons to believe the level of morale in that office leaves a lot to be desired. The U.S. Pardon Attorney, Ronald L. Rodgers, is - very oddly - a holdover from the Bush administration. Close observers of the clemency process see very little evidence that Rodgers or the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, have any interest in pardons, or give them any significance. The federal clemency program all but completely dried up when Holder headed it up as Deputy Attorney General and left us with the memory of FALN and Marc Rich and Clinton's last-minute pardon bonanza.
Mr. President, put down the NCAA brackets, the golf clubs and leave the dog shopping to someone else. Take 10 seconds - that's right, just 10 seconds - to write a note demanding 100 positive clemency recommendations from your Department of Justice. Repeat on a regular basis.