Monday, July 27, 2015

Morison: Clemency Rhetoric v. Reality

Sam Morison
At The Hill, Sam Morison - a criminal defense attorney in Washington, D.C., and former staff attorney in the DOJ's Office of the Pardon Attorney addresses the "deep concern" of Rep. Bob Goodlatte and 18 other Republicans that President Obama is using the pardon power "to benefit specific classes of offenders, or for political purposes” who were "duly convicted in a court of law.” Goodlatte and his pals assert that this is “plainly unconstitutional.”

Morison, however, notes this claim is "illiterate" - at best - since "throughout American history, presidents have granted executive clemency to 'specific classes of offenders' on dozens of occasions, from George Washington’s pardon of the Whiskey Rebels in 1795 to George H.W. Bush’s pardon of the Iran-Contra defendants in 1992."

More relevant to Obama's recent commutations of 46 drug law offenders, Morison adds:
... in the early 1960s, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson commuted the sentences of several hundred prisoners serving mandatory minimum sentences under the Narcotics Control Act of 1956, without objection by Congress. 
The less dramatic, and far more reaction to Obama's commutations would be guided by this understanding:
...Under our tripartite system of government, an act of executive clemency in no sense “usurps” legislative or judicial authority.. it “is a part of the Constitutional scheme. When granted it is the determination of the ultimate [executive] authority that the public welfare will be better served by inflicting less than what the judgment fixed.” ... Indeed, that was the Framers’ point in giving the power to the President in the first place, to act as a check on the other branches.  
Morison concludes there is "no reason to doubt" President Obama "can grant clemency because of his own policy judgment about a particular law."  Indeed, "the President’s power is beyond dispute." See full editorial here.

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