The Justice Department announced on Friday that President Obama had pardoned eight individuals, bringing the total number of his pardons to 17. Most of the new pardons, like the nine last December, were bestowed on people convicted decades ago, who spent no time in prison and who are relatively unknown outside their communities.The Homepage for the Office of the Pardon Attorney is still hanging around December of 2010 so far as updates are concerned. So, there is no light to be shed on the topic there.
What Justice didn't announce, but what nearly three thousand people learned by e-mail on Monday morning, was that the President also denied 791 pardons and 1,947 sentence commutations. This sets a new record in number of clemency cases denied in one day, and at one stroke eliminated the case backlog in the Pardon Attorney’s office. It is hard to see how the five lawyers in that office could have produced a meaningful report for the President in all 3000 of these cases even in two years.
The way in which the bad news was delivered -- by a form e-mail – was also unusual. Two of my clients called me in tears -- not so much because they thought they were going to be pardoned (they didn't) but because of the impersonal and abrupt way the news was delivered, after both had waited years. Always in the past there was at least a letter on nice DOJ stationery signed personally by the Pardon Attorney, a comparatively classy gesture under all the circumstances. Now, apparently, those denied mercy will be so informed by USPardon.Attorney@usdoj.gov.
A quick glance at the facts of the eight successful pardon cases, based largely on accounts from local newspapers, suggests that they are indistinguishable from many of the cases denied on the same day. And, as Julie Stewart of FAMM remarked in response to the news that there had still been no commutations, it seems hard to believe that there was not a single prisoner petition among the hundreds denied last Friday that was deserving of this President's favorable consideration. There has never been a time in our history when the pardon power was more necessary to compensate for shortcomings in the legal system, and evidently never one when it was less valued by those responsible for its exercise.
I would not have thought it possible that this great power of the presidency could be further debased. Perhaps this President believes that he can take up his pardoning responsibilities in a second term, but the experience of his predecessors ought to give him pause. His record to date of using this most personal of his constitutional powers ought to give us pause as well.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
From Doug Berman's Sentencing Law and Policy Blog: