Wednesday, May 25, 2011
In response to the recent news that the Office of the Pardon Attorney (Department of Justice) has taken to the policy of informing individuals that their pardon applications have been rejected by e-mail, a reader has offered (as a justification / rationalization), "there is no good way to receive this news."
And there is certainly no good way to inform a mother that her child has been slain in battle. But, somehow, a tweet with a frowny face seems just a tad bit less than desirable or, dare we say, inappropriate. Indeed to focus on - and summarily dismiss - the presumed emotional reaction of the recipients of DOJ official rejection e-mails is both wrong-headed and disturbing.
The recent e-mail rejection of 2,738 applications for pardons and commutations of sentence is, of course, further evidence of what is already well known. The Office of the Pardon Attorney is the place where clemency applications go to die. It is a place that strongly resembles the manner in which sociologists have long described trial courts of limited jurisdiction in the states - where case loads are large and there is a heavy presumption of guilt. "Link sausage" justice they call it. It's all about establishing guilt, moving 'em through, and keeping them moving.
Between President Obama, Attorney General Holder and the U.S. Pardon Attorney, there isn't anything remotely similar to a substantive "clemency program." With almost 4,000 applications denied and only 17 grants, there is very little room to explore the inner workings of these gears. There is no mystery re the heavy presumption of unworthiness. Woodrow Wilson granted more pardons in a single month, just after he had a massive debilitating stroke, than the perfectly healthy President Obama has granted in 850 plus days! It would seem that - as others have suggested - it is time to move the institutional apparatus related to the pardon power out of the Department of Justice to some place (like the Executive Office of the President) where the power could be treated more seriously, less offensively.