True, Mr. Holder has recently talked about reducing sentences for "older, nonviolent inmates" and finding better ways to "deal with nonviolent criminals." He has also discussed "harsh mandatory sentences on low-level drug offenders" and his desire for "legislation that would give federal judges more leeway in imposing mandatory minimum sentences." But, notes Lardner, these "cures" are largely "prospective" and Holder may not be able to do much on his own for the thousands of prisoners already behind bars because of excessive sentences."
The President, on the other hand, could do a great deal, "and without a single word from Congress."
Since 1789, Obama’s office has had the power to “grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” There are no other limits to that power .... Obama could do something [without] waiting another day. He could start with the thousands of petitions for clemency that typically clog the Justice Department’s understaffed, underfunded Office of the Pardon Attorney. It takes more than three years before those considered deserving are even processed. And while very few are sent to the White House with a positive recommendation, the fact is that Obama has approved even fewer after sitting on them for almost another year.This is all, of course, wildly contrary to the vision of the Founding Fathers. Alexander Hamilton, for example, observed (in the Federalist Papers) that criminal codes have a natural tendency toward "severity" and, for that reason, there should be "easy access" to mercy. Yet President Obama, despite a world of rhetoric about hope and change, and second chances, is easily among the most merciless presidents in American history. Says Lardner
The Founders gave the president pardon power for good reason; Obama has not only the right, but also the duty, to use it.See Lardner's full editorial here.