[on the DOJ's current criteria for commutations] ... “It is an exceedingly narrow set of criteria,” says Sam Morison, a lawyer specializing in clemency who worked in the Office of the Pardon Attorney for 13 years during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Even so, he says, “they should have no problem finding cases if they are really serious about it.” Morison worries that even if Obama sincerely wants to make up for lost time, he will face “pushback” from the Justice Department. “In my experience, it was not a lack of manpower” that blocked commutations, he says. “It was a lack of political will. The Justice Department wasn’t going to do it.”
[on Obama's options] Earnest promises that Obama will use “executive authority to try to correct as many injustices as possible,” while urging Congress to “enact the kind of reforms that the president can’t by acting on his own.” But Obama can do a lot more than he has done so far, and his unused power will be especially important if Congress fails to pass significant sentencing reforms this year. “The president could largely fix this in an afternoon,” says Morrison, by issuing an “amnesty proclamation” that retroactively applies the lighter crack penalties that Congress approved in 2010, commuting sentences that would be shorter under current law. Families Against Mandatory Minimums says that change alone could help something like 8,800 prisoners.