Friday, November 5, 2010

A Landmark Letter Re the Pardon Power

Samuel T. Morison spent ten years working as a staff attorney in the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA) in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Those of us who communicated with him in that position, or were referred to him for assistance, always found him friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. Today, the Blowback section of the L.A. Times blog features what is - in our view - a letter from Morison that constitutes no less than an important landmark in public dialog regarding the president's pardon power.

The springboard of Morison's letter is a recent Times article which argued that the president should give "great deference" to the U.S. Pardon Attorney's recommendations and "take a liberal view of the clemency power, exercising it often and on the basis of clear standards." But Morison corrects the good intentions of the Times by explaining that recent presidents have, in fact, "given far too much deference to the pardon attorney's office."

There follows commentary which, to some degree, has certainly appeared elsewhere, in a variety of venues, but never in a style so crisp and utterly compelling. Morison, for example, explains that the "prevailing view" in the DOJ is that the "sole institutional function" of the OPA is to "defend the department's prosecutorial prerogatives." As a result, there is "little, if any, pretense of neutrality, much less liberality." Says Morison:
On this parochial view, the institution of a genuinely humane clemency policy would be considered an insult to the good work of line prosecutors. As a result, there is a strong presumption within the pardon office that the number of favorable recommendations should be kept to an absolute minimum, regardless of the equitable merits of any individual petition. 
Everyone with an interest in the pardon power should print this piece out, give it a careful read (or two) and carefully file it away for future reference. See Morison's complete letter here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Wow... there's some words of encouragement.

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