Monday, January 16, 2017

Post Glorifies Last-Minute Clemency Decision Making Rush

Today, the Washington Post covers - quite uncritically - the hurried decision making that is associated with the largest fourth-year clemency surge in American history. The Post writes:
“These are big decisions that you’re making,” [Deputy Attorney General] Yates said, alluding to the public-safety risks and the need to provide a “sophisticated analysis” to the president. “If it’s to let someone out of prison early, earlier than what their original sentence was, you’ve got to be careful about those decisions ... you have to look at their past as well and at their criminal history. You have to look at their conduct [in prison].”
Yet, amazingly, the piece claims DOJ has "completed review" of 16,000 plus clemency petitions "over the past two years." Sounds like a record, doesn't it? Making history, no? Not a wisp of concern that that "review" process was serious, thorough, just, fair.

Yates is quoted as saying “Everyone has killed themselves here to get the final recommendations to the president ... We were in overdrive ... It was 24-7 over the Christmas break.” The Post reports U.S. Pardon Attorney Robert A. Zauzmer "has not taken a day off" since February 2016. Who could possibly question / second guess the quality of the decision making by persons who are killing themselves and working over Christmas break?

Not the Post.

Is this the way to do clemency? This is the model for future administrations, is it? Really? Is this the hope and change? Is it now - at last - time we apologize to Bill Clinton for all of his last-minute pardoning? Moreover, says the Post:
As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office, Justice officials worry that his administration will dismantle Obama’s clemency initiative which has resulted in the early release of 1,176 drug offenders who were sentenced under the severe mandatory minimum laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s during the nation’s “war on drugs.” More than 400 were serving life sentences. Yates said Obama will grant “a significant” number of commutations this week, but would not specify a number. Several people close to the process said it will be several hundred.
How a journalist of any repute whatsoever could write something like this and not say a word about Attorney General Lynch's tragically erroneous view that the President of the United States does not have the power to grant a group pardon (or amnesty) is beyond belief. Talk about an elephant in the room !

Obama's clemency initiative - sprung 6 years into his administration - was ... Obama's initiative. It was not a structural / institutional change to the clemency process. The same DOJ that specialized in rejecting clemency applications will be in place when Obama leaves, doing what it does. In all likelihood, Trump will wait forever to grant the first pardon / commutation of his term - just like Obama. In all likelihood, Trump will save clemency for Christmas and the end of his term - just like Obama. For all of this, Trump is hardly entirely to blame. See full Post story here.

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