Sunday, December 26, 2010
Number 10: The Mighty Quinn - When former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) was run out of office, he left a stack of literally thousands of clemency applications behind, some dating back more than a decade. His replacement, Pat Quinn (D) promised to address the applications as best as he could, in a more timely fashion. In his mind, timely attention is implicit in the very notion of a just application process. Quinn kept his word.
Number 9: Brewer's Stink Bomb - When an Arizona board recommended clemency for Bill Macumber, it seemed as if a nightmare had finally come to an end. Macumber was convicted of a murder that another man confessed to more than once. But Governor Jan Brewer (R) refused to extend clemency and, even worse, after a series of tacky delays and blow-offs, refused to even provide an explanation for her decision making. Eventually, after prodding from Dateline and the New York Times, she relented and a boiler plate "explanation" which said absolutely nothing particular about the case, the Board's decision making or her own thoughts on the case.
Number 8: Paterson's Immigration Panel - Governor David Paterson announced that he was going to create a board with the special mission of examining cases where clemency might prevent the deportation of immigrants who had committed offenses years ago and had lived as law-abiding citizens since. Paterson argued the current laws are outdated and unnecessarily harsh.
Number 7: Another Lardner Victory - The Obama administration has promised a new day in the matter of transparency, but has fought tooth and nail to keep the clemency process shrouded in as much secrecy as possible. In October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit handed George Lardner another victory in his pursuit of the names of individuals who have unsuccessfully applied for clemency. As the court saw it, the DOJ's own procedures undermined the arguments that were being made on appeal.
Number 6: Thanks for Reading - On March 28, we posted this commentary on the decline in the use of commutations of sentence. On the following day, the blog, and the post, were visited by someone at the U.S. Supreme Court. Later that day, at oral argument, Justice Anthony Kennedy questioned stupefied Justice Department lawyers about the non-use of commutations. As they put it, they were not "prepared" to discuss the issue. Ironically, the DOJ visits this humble webpage, on average, about 6 times a day, during the regular work week (see the Sitemeter link in the far right column and click on "location").
Number 5: Minnesota Madness - Anxious to develop something like another Dukakis/Willie Horton or Huckabee/Maurice Clemens story, the press simply could not resist spewing out a world of sloppy reporting when an individual who was the recipient of clemency in Minnesota went on to be accused of additional crimes. The real target, of course, was Governor Pawlenty, who may (or may not have) presidential aspirations. Bottom line is, the Governor can pardon no one in the State of Minnesota. State statutes give the power to a Board, whose decisions must be unanimous. The individual was not pardoned, but instead a received a "pardon extraordinary," reserved for persons who have served their time and been law-abiding citizens for significant periods of time. The recipient met all of the qualifications.
Number 4: A Major Finding - For some six decades now, since the seminal work of W.H. Humbert, political scientists have marked April 15, 1794, as the date of the first presidential pardon. This is because the first warrant appearing in official State Department records is dated as such. In November, however, George Lardner, who is writing a history of presidential pardons, announced that he has developed evidence to suggest that Washington's first pardon was actually granted on February 28, 1791. That moved the first pardon from 1,511 days into the administration to just 669 days. This meant that President Obama had already past George Washington in pardon tardiness and only George W. Bush sat between Obama and ultimate clemency infamy. Interestingly, only a few days after Lardner's revelation, Obama granted the first pardons of his administration, just a few days before Bush!
Number 3: Morison On the Scene - Samuel T. Morison served over a decade in the Department of Justice's Office of the Pardon Attorney as an attorney advisor. By the time the L.A. Times wrote a piece on President Obama's non-pardon program, Morison had moved on to another job. So, Morison wrote a brief response, summarizing his view of the general situation in the DOJ and the OPA. The result was nothing less than atomic. Morison participated in other public discussions of the pardon power throughout the year and his contributions have already been enormous.
Number 2: Waiting on the President - Congress signed the Fair Sentencing Act, reducing the previous 100 to 1 disparity in crack cocaine sentencing to 18 to 1. All eyes then moved to the President, who wields the pardon power and can institute the obvious next move: addressing the sentences of those who have served extended sentences under the previous law - of which Obama and his Attorney General were critical. So far, nothing out of the White House. The President seems content to let Congress do the heavy lifting and allow what he viewed previously as instances of injustice to be swept under the rug.
Number 1: Slow and Pitiful - While he may have run on the rhetoric of "Hope and Change,"Barack Obama appeared to be making quite an effort to imitate George W. Bush in matters related to the pardon power. Bush was the slowest Republican president in history to exercise the pardon power. Obama established himself as the slowest Democratic president in history to exercise the pardon power. Bush's first pardons were a small, insignificant lot, granted around Christmas. Obama followed suit perfectly. Obama's 9 pardons to date were generally for retirees who committed minor offenses 20-30 years ago.