Tuesday, March 23, 2010
On November 9, 1931, the President directed Attorney General William D. Mitchell to “make public” the names of those who supported pardon applications and “the reasons advanced by them for urging clemency.” That is, if the inquiries came from “public officials, or the press.” In response to the President’s request, Mitchell advised the United States Pardon Attorney, James A. Finch, to release the information mentioned by the President, but only in cases where clemency had been granted (as opposed to cases where clemency was denied, or the final decision was still pending). The Pardon Attorney also required those who sought information to know the names of clemency recipients in advance.
Mitchell appeared at the Annual Meeting of the American Bar Association in 1932 and shared his thoughts on Hoover and the clemency process. To the surprise of many, he revealed that the pardoning power was a major source of disagreement between the President and the Department of Justice. Mitchell theorized Hoover had “great experiences in the relief of human misery” which had created in him a considerable degree of “human sympathy.” But Mitchell told the audience these experiences caused the President to occasionally disagree with prosecutors. The saving grace was that these clashes generally involved “humble persons” no one had heard of, as opposed to “great malefactors.”
Mitchell argued that the one, clear, “pitiful” by-product of criminal misconduct was that “the burden of misery falls most heavily on women and children.” But, he also observed that, if executive clemency were granted in all cases of "suffering" families, the result would be "a general jail delivery.” The Attorney General concluded his remarks by recommending that presidents and members of the Justice Department “steel” themselves against clemency requests based on such appeals.
Mitchell’s bar-the-door stance notwithstanding, the word was already out that Hoover considered the Justice Department “too rigid.” Like many presidents before and after him, the President went on a fourth-year, “last-minute” pardoning bonanza.