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December 17, 2008

An effective call for President Bush to be a truly "compassionate conservate" with his clemency power

Over at Pardon Power, P.S. Ruckman has a number of great new posts, including this one noting that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is reported to be reviewing prison inmate petitions for clemency while he ignores calls for his resignation.  And among the great reads is this long new post, which ends with this potent callfor President George Bush to use his clemency power dynamically during his last month in office:

Now comes the end of the administration of George W. Bush. When he came to office eight years ago, he wrapped himself in the theme of "compassionate conservatism" — a theme which critics feel has yet to be operationalized in any meaningful way.  Regardless, today, out in a space of land much much larger than the Western District of Arkansas are thousands and thousands of prisoners who have experienced the harsh administration of mandatory minimum sentences. Many of them are first-time offenders who committed non-violent offenses. They have learned — as has everyone affected by their imprisonment — that the justice system can construct huge, impressive mechanical devices to automatically send "signals."  But, now, Mr. President, maybe now more than ever, it is time for them to also learn that criminal justice in the United States is not the duty and function of a single branch of our government, or even two.  The courts may feel bound by the legislature.  And legislators may feel bound by constituents and public opinion.  But, in matters of criminal justice, President Bush, thanks to the U.S. Constitution, the only thing that constrains you is a compassionate human being's idea of the right thing to do, or not do.

Mr. President, reach into the thousands of clemency applications that are sitting in the Office of the Pardon Attorney right now — many of which have been sitting there for years and years — and do what you know is the right thing to do.  Do what should have been done when Mr. Clinton left office.  Use the pardon power as it was meant to be used — or at least use it in the manner in which it is best used — to round off the rough edges of justice without reference to personal and partisan considerations and with a sense of humility and, yes, compassion. In addition to giving real life meaning to the phrase "compassionate conservatism," you will enliven the the proverb we are all better off to remember, "There, but for the Grace of God, go I."

Amen!

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December 17, 2008 at 09:02 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Persuasive until the last sentence or so.

There, but for the Grace of God and my decision not to deal drugs, embezzle money, beat up my girlfriend or rob a bank, go I.

That aside, I'd like to see some of these pardon advocates get their hands dirty and point out some real cases where they think people deserve pardons. Instead of doing this, the post tells a great useless story about a harsh judge in 1875. "Potent," indeed.

Posted by: anonymous | Dec 17, 2008 9:32:11 AM

Can there be any phrase more abused than "non-violent offender"?

Posted by: federalist | Dec 17, 2008 11:11:22 AM

> Can there be any phrase more abused than "non-violent offender"?

More abused? probable cause, reasonable, totality of the circumstances, articulable suspicion, compelling justification, narrowly construed, undue burden ...

> There, but for the Grace of God and my decision not to deal drugs, embezzle money, beat up my girlfriend or rob a bank, go I.

A fun way to make an interesting point. Most Christian denominations that I am aware of give very little credit to the "my decision" aspect of the equation, except to note that the ability to make good decisions also falls under the Grace of God. I understand you may feel differently.

More importantly, I was hoping that more crafty readers would relate mandatory minimum sentences - and the types of persons most affected by them - to Bush's admitted past personal behavior. But I didn't have time (or the skill) to draw a picture.

Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Dec 17, 2008 11:49:08 AM

If you are a regular reader of this blog, anonymous, you will see lots and lots of examples of cases in which I think sentencing commutations (not pardons) are deserved. For just a few prominent examples, how about the Border Agents, Weldon Angelos (who's my client), Clarence Aaron, and lots of other folks to be found in my archive called Examples of "over-punishment."

I do not know if this is enough of a list to consider my hands dirty, but it only scratches the surface of the many, many, many federal cases in which clemency relief could be readily justified. (I do not like to use the term deserved here or in most other settings because I think, federalist, that "just deserts" is the sentencing phrase most abused in the most contexts.)

Posted by: Douglas A. Berman | Dec 17, 2008 1:00:53 PM

P.S. Ruckman writes:
--------
More importantly, I was hoping that more crafty readers would relate mandatory minimum sentences - and the types of persons most affected by them - to Bush's admitted past personal behavior. But I didn't have time (or the skill) to draw a picture
--------

Forgive my lack of craftiness. I did indeed miss that connection, as I was distracted by the tangentially relevant picture of a 19th Century scaffold.

And Prof. Berman, my criticism was not leveled at you. I have a great deal of respect for your efforts on behalf of Patrick Lett, and for your publicizing the facts of other cases in which defendants were arguably punished too harshly.

Posted by: anonymous | Dec 17, 2008 3:55:27 PM

>I was distracted by the tangentially relevant picture of a 19th Century scaffold.

Sounds like you have pretty clear ideas of what should / and should not be done. I look forward to linking to your own work one day. Please keep me informed.

Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Dec 18, 2008 10:07:46 AM

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