Saturday, February 1, 2014

Osler: Good News / (More) Bad News

In a previous post, we noted that, in 2013, the Office of the Pardon Attorney received  a record number of clemency applications, and a record number of applications for commutations of sentence to boot. Thus, to our thinking, the Deputy Attorney General's recent call for more commutation applications was a bit odd. As we have also noted, for five years, various administration officials have tossed out such bait to those baffled by the fact that the Obama administration is among the least merciful in history - an irony given the President's rhetoric re "hope," "redemption" and the importance of "second chances."

In a new MSNBC editorial, Our friend, Prof. Mark Osler reports "The good news is that this administration, unlike its most recent predecessors, intends to use the pardon power in a vigorous and principled way" but agrees with us that
Unfortunately, this solution doesn’t address the actual problem with federal clemency. No one has suggested that what is broken with the pardon power is that there aren’t enough petitions in the system - to the contrary, there is a backlog of some 3,500 clemency petitions awaiting a decision. The problem is that the process doesn’t work. The pipeline is clogged, and the solution can’t be simply to jam more things into it. The present structure for consideration of these often-complicated petitions has done a terrible job handling the workload it has now; it’s unclear how giving the pardon attorney and the others who consider these petitions even more work is supposed to solve the problem. Increasing the size of the clog does nothing to clear out a pipe. 
Rationally, generating more clemency petitions only makes sense if this administration is prepared to find a way to analyze and ultimately grant more petitions. If that is part of the plan - and it might be - Cole did not mention it in his speech.
So, for now, we are certainly content to look beyond the talk / headlines for long overdue action. See Osler's full editorial here.

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