Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Huffington Post on Obama's Non-Pardons

Dan Froomkin, senior Washington editor for the Huffington Post has written a fantastic piece on President Obama's complete failure to pardon. It is entitled, "Turkey Spared - But Obama's Compassion for Humans comes up short." Froomkin makes several outstanding points and provides snippets of commentary from the Editor of the Pardon Power blog, George Lardner, former Office of the Pardon Attorney staff member Sam Morison and conservative columnist Debra Saunders.

Froomkin argues presidents have "a responsibility" to pardon in order to "correct the excesses and errors of a system that is inevitably imperfect" and "often overloaded." With respect to Obama's distinction as the slowest Democratic president in history to exercise the pardon power, the piece says:
"I'm just baffled. I never would have expected this," said P.S. Ruckman Jr., the editor of the Pardon Power blog and a political science professor in Illinois. "With Bush, I never really expected much out of him, because he had a track record for being really stingy as governor." But, recalling how Obama spoke out during his presidential campaign against mandatory minimum sentences and laws with racially discriminatory impact, Ruckman said, "He sounded like he was someone who was passionate about this -- and where that went, I just don't know."
Froomkin notes incarceration rates have "skyrocketed" to the point where the U.S. "has the world's largest prison population and the world's highest incarceration rates." Consequently, it seems that it "wouldn't be hard" for Obama's Justice Department:
"... to find some deserving men and women among the nearly 5,000 petitions being processed by the Justice Department -- not to mention among the nearly 2.5 million Americans currently behind bars, or the millions more whose lives are blighted by the legal discrimination against felons even decades after their sentences are served.
Of course, one notable class of possibilities would be those sentenced under the infamous 1986 law which created a 100-to-1 disparity between the amounts of crack and powder cocaine that trigger a mandatory terms. Congress recently reduced that disparity to 18-to-1 but, Froomkin notes, "that change is not retroactive."
"If you say the old law was unjust, and now we have a new law, wouldn't it make sense to take a look at some of these cases and see if they would be good candidates for commutation?" asked former Clinton administration pardon attorney Margaret Colgate Love. "I don't think there's any reason in the world that any first-time non-violent offender who has served past that 18-to-1 ratio should be in prison another day," Ruckman told HuffPost.
Froomkin correctly notes that "voices from the left and right are calling upon Obama to act." But former U.S. Pardon Attorney Margaret Colgate Love says, "This White House has shown itself really not very interested in criminal justice issues generally." Why? In part, because Eric Holder brought a world of luggage to the office of Attorney General in the matter of controversial pardons and Obama has simply retained President Bush's Pardon Attorney. Love says Obama "should appoint his own pardon attorney and decide how he wants to use his power."

As for "rumors" that are "now swirling within pardon circles that at least some grants of clemency are expected soon" :
Ruckman thinks that's a mistake. "These Christmas pardons, I think they send the wrong message, that pardons are gifts to people who may or may not deserve them," he said. "We think presidents should pardon on a regular basis, instead of fourth-year splurges and at Christmastime." 
 See Froomkin's very well written piece in its entirety here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I believe that one of the HUGE misconceptions to the public is.... that pardons, release prisoners. The average person has no idea that, a pardon is simply restoration of rights to someone who has already completed their sentence, and waited an amount of time to ask "forgiveness".

Alot of the general public confuses pardons with commutations. I believe more education or information made public would influence opinion on the pardon power. Most average Americans believe anyone who recieves a pardon was a violent offender, or major offender released from prison with the swipe of a presidential pen.

Reality is... there are thousands of people who's wrongdoings years ago, wouldve long been wiped clean had they been state charges, with relative ease. However, because someone used the mail service, or traveled across state lines, or made a phone call to another state... those offenders, were charged federally & have zero chance at expongement, or rights restoration without the signature of the President. In essence, every federal felony conviction is.... a life sentence.

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