Thursday, August 29, 2013

CQ on Cohen, the President and Pardons

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn)
John Gramlich at Congressional Quarterly has written a piece entitled, "House Democrat Pressure Obama to Grant Inmates Clemency" (August 27, 2013). The piece focuses specifically on Rep. Steve Cohen (D), who spoke on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. According to the piece:
Cohen, a white Democrat who represents a heavily African-American district in Tennessee, said at a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday that the anniversary of the civil rights march should spur Obama to pardon and commute the sentences of more inmates, particularly given the administration’s recent decision to seek lighter criminal penalties for low-level drug offenders. 
He added that the President should make greater use of clemency because
 “there remain thousands [of] disproportionately low-income minorities and people of color whose liberty has been taken from them through unjust and unequally applied mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses.” 
Cohen is said to find Attorney General Holder's recent public comments "laudable," but notes that they:
[do] not help those who have already been convicted under such mandatory sentencing laws and may no longer pose a threat to society, even as they cost taxpayers as much as $30,000 a year per person to incarcerate. Obama has used his clemency powers more sparingly than any modern president. P.S. Ruckman Jr., an executive clemency expert and professor at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill., said in a blog post this week that Obama’s first term was “the least merciful since the first term of George Washington.” 
On the other hand, the piece notes Cohen "was careful not to criticize Obama directly" and that he sugested "the president’s unwillingness to use his clemency authority may stem in part from “untrustworthy or biased information” from the Office of the Pardon Attorney." Cohen then called on the President to replace Pardon Attorney Ronald L. Rodgers, a “holdover from the previous administration who has been admonished by the DOJ’s inspector general for withholding and misrepresenting information.” Said Cohen:
It is past time to reinvigorate the pardon office with new leadership, with someone highly respected in the legal community who would see the position as an opportunity to deliver justice to those who deserve it, not one whose mission appears to be keeping people in prison unnecessarily.
Finally, Cohen called in the President to “establish a board to undertake a systematic review of non-violent offenders and recommend worthy candidates for commutations.”

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