Monday, October 26, 2015

Obama: More Talk

After almost seven years, lots and lots of talk, and precious little pardoning, President Obama sat down with The Marshall Project and delivered - at least arguably - some of the most dramatic talk yet:

Bill Keller: While we are talking about actions at your disposal, you’ve said on several occasions that there are a lot of people in prisons who shouldn’t be there, and a lot of people point to your record on pardons and commutations, each of which is in the double digits, although thousands of people have applied for relief. Will we be seeing more of that between now and the end of your term and will it be large numbers? 

President Obama: Well, when I came into office and I became interested in this issue, part of what we had to deal with was a legacy process where we had an understaffed and fairly constrained funnel in the Department of Justice through which recommendations came to me. And, after the first couple of rounds, I started noticing that the kinds of cases that were coming up were … a sixty year old convicting of check kiting and was interested in getting his right to get a license for a firearm … and I said, we don’t seem to be getting a pool that’s broad enough to encompass all of the folks who, you know, may have gotten excessive sentences, for example, non-violent drug transactions. And, so what we have had to do is build inside the Justice Department greater capacity. And that has opened up the aperture. We are now getting more applications. We’re processing them more effectively. I think what you have seen is a steady ramp up through this change. And you should anticipate that, over the next year and a half, I’m making a big push to try to get as many of these cases reviewed and I don’t put either a floor or ceiling in terms of how many commutations we might do. Public safety is upper most on our minds. But I am confident that there are a lot more folks who qualify under the criteria that we’ve set forth than I’ve already acted on. And that means we’ve got to speed up the process.

The President's commentary is notable for a number of reasons. First, it doubles down on the bizarro narrative floated back in March. Apparently, when the President says "first couple of rounds," he means "first six years!" Second, the President suggests that "more applications" are coming in, but everybody knows he has been getting record numbers of clemency applications from the get go. There has never been a shortage of applications, or talk for that matter. There has only been a shortage of action. Third, at present, there is no evidence whatsoever that applications are being processed more efficiently. At least one former U.S. Pardon Attorney is certain it is otherwise. Finally, one has to wonder; will a Bill Clinton / Haley Barbour style last-minute rush of hundreds/thousands of pardons/commutations be good for America? Good for the pardon power?


Amyray007 said...

The panel discussion was one of the most frustrating things i have had to listen to in a long time. What a wasted (potentially golden) opportunity - squandered! Why were there SO many law enforcement people there - acting all gleeful, sitting on the front row - why not FORMERLY INCARCERATED PEOPLE who now work in activism. Or who have major success stories and why allow AG Walsh get away with the misnomer that they will ONLY use Mand. mims on low level offenders - that has been a myth for the last 30 years - and just saying it, doesn't make it so - they will work with ANYONE who will cooperate.
The follow up questions were missing - as in, "Are you saying that prosecutors will no longer cut a deal with anyone who is a major drug dealer? He says they only want to get the "violent" people =
3 strikes was SOLD to the public as 3 Violent strikes = and it wasn't + fraud -
we are once again being fed information they know we can't argue with , which means you have to be prepared to force THEM to tell the truth - why is Michelle West serving a life sentence based on the word of a murderer - who was given FULL IMMUNITY?

Anonymous said...

A last minute wave of pardons/commutations will only further the negative, & often ignorant opinion the general public has of the pardon process. The BEST thing a president could do.... grant pardons/commutations on a regular basis. Even in small numbers. Grant them often, & the hoopla over the process will diminish. A big last minute push only brings more scrutiny, & negative public opinion.

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