Friday, August 5, 2016
Goodlatte is said to be “deeply concerned” about the size and scope of President Obama's commutations to date. As readers of this blog know, the President was one of the slowest in history to use the clemency power, and his first term was the least merciful since the first term of George Washington. Obama granted a whopping 22 pardons and 1 commutation of sentence. Now, almost a full 8 years into his term, the President has granted 562 commutations of sentence. It is no record. In addition, Obama's grant rate is hardly impressive and he lags behind most multiple term Presidents in his overall use of clemency.
Unaware that the Constitution features separation of powers and a system of checks and balances, Goodlatte says Obama's commutations of sentence are a “blatant usurpation” of Congress’s authority - a kind of stumbling, bumbling boiler plate 'argument' that could be launched in the aftermath of any grant of clemency.
In Goodlatte's defense, he has been swayed by the long-criticized language in the U.S. Attorney manual which suggests that commutations of a sentence are "an extraordinary remedy" that are "rarely granted." Of course, nothing in the Constitution suggests that commutations are (or should be) "extraordinary" - in any sense of the language. So, we can hardly argue we are looking at a constitutional guideline, much less a limitation on the president's power. Consider: Obama has granted 562 commutations in almost 8 years as president. Meanwhile, he has denied a record 8,739 applications for commutation of sentence. Another 3,286 applications have been "closed" without presidential action (another record). Get it Goodlatte? Commutations ARE rarely granted.
Goodlatte is also angered that the Justice Department's clemency initiative emphasizes federal drug offenders which he sees as a "plainly unconstitutional practice of picking and choosing which laws to enforce and which laws to change." That is to say, the poor fellow thinks that to commute a sentence is act of law enforcement, or legislation. That's really sad. But not nearly as sad as this:
Documenting massive ignorance of our history, Goodlatte says the Founders intended the clemency power to provide only "exceptions in favour of unfortunate guilt." God forbid he would read the rest of the language around that snippet from the Federalist Papers. He might discover Hamilton's discussion of the political use of pardons, for example, to quell insurrections. He might also discover Hamilton's observation that criminal codes have an almost natural tendency toward over-severity. Therefore, says Hamilton, there should be "easy access" to mercy.
"Easy access" Mr. Goodlatte, not extraordinarily rare access.
The Representative complains that Obama is using commutations "to benefit an entire class of offenders who were duly convicted in a court of law." Yes, most of the time (but not always) clemency is exercised on behalf of criminals, people who were convicted. If Goodlatte really counts that as "insight" re Obama's commutations, he is a train wreck indeed. What he doesn't mention is that those individuals were sentenced under guidelines rejected by both parties in both chambers of Congress as ineffective, if not out right unfair. What he doesn't mention is the judges in those courts of law complaining about the ridiculous nature of those sentencing guidelines. What he doesn't mention is the fact that the "entire class of offenders" to date means 562 of 12,000 ... who just so happened to have applied. There are many, many thousands more in our federal prisons.
With fools like Goodlatte on the other side of the argument, there is smooth sailing for the President. See story here,