... the latest evidence that until the clemency process is pried from the grip of the Justice Department, it will remain broken.Maybe so. We don't know. Second and third hand reports (from unidentified "friends") suggest Leff resigned because she was not happy with the level of support her office received. But, it is hard to believe she was not aware of the situation in that office, generally, when she came to the position. It was receiving a record number of clemency applications before she stepped in and the number of pardon and commutation grants was abysmal.
The Times recognizes that "for most of his time in office" President Obama "has exercised this power only rarely" - even though he has "focused more attention on this issue." The Times says Leff’s appointment "was a promising sign."
Says the Times:
The lack of resources is only part of a deeper problem, which is that the pardon office is caught in an incurable institutional conflict. The deputy attorney general has authority to review the pardon attorney’s clemency recommendations, and federal prosecutors generally have little interest in revisiting or undoing the department’s convictions.This analysis, of course, is only applicable to commutations of sentence. Pardons very rarely have anything at all to do with anyone's conviction being "revisited" or "undone" - not in any normal sense of the language. And Obama's record on pardons is one of the worst ever. But, he can:
... end this blockage either by running the pardon office directly out of the White House or by appointing an independent commission, as several states have done to improve and streamline their clemency processes.The Times says executive clemency "is a critical check on a justice system," but it is so so much more than that. It is also a check on the legislature. It is a recognition that politicians of all stripes are not perfect. Laws are not perfect. The application / interpretation / execution of the law is a far from a perfect enterprise. It is an expression of the American concern about "unfortunate guilt," rehabilitation, restoration and a general sense that very few punishments should be life long.
See full editorial here.