Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Massachusetts: State Neglect, Editorial Folly

At Mass.com, Ron Chimelis makes an obvious point, but, a point we have made many times over the years as well: last minute pardons have a tendency to leave a "bad taste." More specifically, Chimelis suggests the "time-honored practice of 11th-hour pardons" is "rarely [well-received] by a public that feels its leaders have completed an end-around from the democratic process." Consequently, "cries of arbitrary, one-man rule are bound to follow." They "feed the cynicism of a soured electorate."

Of course, Chimelis writes his editorial piece in response to Gov. Deval Patrick (about to leave office), who granted a mere four pardons this past week. Deval also granted the first commutation of sentence in his term and the first granted in the State in 17 years (quite an amazing tribute to the near infallibility of the State's criminal justice system and its evident failure to rehabilitate anyone, in or outside of prison).

The Editorial states :
Pardons are enacted for a variety of reasons. Evidence exposing the unjust nature of an original sentencing, or convincing proof that the punished individual has earned a second chance in society are the most common. 
But, incredibly, Chimelis, does not appear in the least bit baffled that the State has not seen any such circumstances during Patrick's tenure. Then the editorial wonders off into the lah-lah land traditionally populated by journalists and commentators:
As often as not, pardons are infamously known as the last actions of many Presidents, in particular, who literally sign the papers as they are cleaning out their desks. The most famous "pardon'' was technically not a pardon at all, but a pre-emptive decision. It was President Gerald Ford's excusing of Richard Nixon for crimes Nixon "might have committed'' while in office. 
In fact, the vast majority of presidential pardons are not "last-minute" in any normal sense of the language and they cause no controversy whatsoever. They do not involve friends, relatives, donors, violent criminals, or any other kind of person that has committed some offense about which a person like Chimelis would bother to write an editorial. President Obama has granted 62 pardons and commutations of sentence. There is a much better than average chance Chimelis could not name 3 recipients among them, Ditto for George W. Bush, who granted 200. As informed persons know, most presidents (as in excepting 2, maybe 3) do not make last-minute pardon dumps and it isn't even true that the population of "most controversial" pardons have tended to fall at the "last-minute." You would have to read the newspapers every day to be so clueless.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, the stench often associated with "last-minute" pardons is not so much a comment on the pardon power as it is a comment on the responsibility and sense of integrity re the persons who wield it. The power is located, constitutionally, at both the federal and state level. It is a responsibility, duty, of executives who are expected to play a serious, legitimate role in our system of separation of powers and checks and balances. That is to say, justice is a three-branch enterprise, not a one branch monopoly.

Inactivity followed by last-minute clemency should simply remind us all of the way things SHOULD be. The pardon power should be administered frequently, regularly, throughout the term. Justice should not be an afterthought. It should be a high-priority and an ongoing concern.

See full editorial here.

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