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December 1, 2009

Mike Huckabee brings up race and class when defending clemency for Clemmons

A helpful reader pointed me to this fascinating new piece in Politicoin which Mike Huckabee is quoted defending his clemency decision regarding (now dead) suspected cop killer Maurice Clemmons.  Here are some lengthy excerpts:

Under fire for commuting the sentence of suspected cop-killer Maurice Clemmons, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Tuesday called some of the criticisms “disgusting” and suggested they were attempts to score political points.  “It really does show how sick our society has become that people are more concerned about a campaign three years from now than those grieving families in Washington,” Huckabee said during an interview on Joe Scarborough’s radio show. “It is disgusting, but people use anything as a political weapon.”

Huckabee granted Clemmons, a suspect in the killings of four police officers in Washington state over the weekend, clemency in 2001.  He had served 11 years in prison after being sentenced at the age of 18 to 60 years in prison for burglary and theft and was set to serve the 60 years, in addition to the 48 years he was already serving on five felony counts....

Huckabee has been thrashed in the right-wing blogosphere by leading online conservative voices who have criticized his commutation of Clemmons’ sentence.  In addition, Minnesota GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty — one of Huckabee’s potential challengers for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012 — said Tuesday that he would not have granted Clemmons clemency if he had been in Huckabee’s position.

“I don't think I've ever voted for clemency,” Pawlenty told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. “We’ve given out pardons for things after everybody has served out their term, but again, usually for more minor offenses.  But clemency?  Certainly not.  Commutation of sentence?  Certainly not.

Huckabee defended his choice to grant the Arkansas felon clemency by insisting that Clemmons original sentence went too far.  “If he were a white kid from an upper middle class family he would have gotten a lawyer and some counseling,” Huckabee said.  “But because he was a young black kid he got 108 years.”  Huckabee said the sentence was “far disproportionate from any other punishment in Arkansas at the time for a similar crime.”

“It’s a lot easier to be a pundit or a commentator or a blogger than to govern the state and have to make tough decisions,” he said. “People are talking about this from a political standpoint, but what they need to be asking is how did the system break down?”

I am pleased and impressed that Huckabee has brought up the issues of race and class concerning extremely long sentences for juvenile offenders.  Serious students of the criminal justice system know that race and class issues often simmer beneath the surface of many hot-button issues, and it is especially heartening to see a leading GOP figure bring these difficult issues to the surface.

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Comments

Will anyone be brave enough to bring up religion? The Ft. Hood killer's religion was part of every story about the incident. In his clemency petition, Clemmons made much of his religion. Will Clemmons's religion become part of the story?

Posted by: someone | Dec 1, 2009 2:09:29 PM

of course, Huckabee impugns others (with no personal knowledge) to defend himself--thoroughly unchristian.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 1, 2009 2:21:51 PM

federalist calling someone thoroughly unchristian. now that's rich.

Posted by: John | Dec 1, 2009 2:36:48 PM

Me, I am an atheist. Huckabee makes a big deal about his faith. I'm basically calling him a hypocrite. Sorry that was a little obtuse for you, john.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 1, 2009 2:54:36 PM

someone: "Will anyone be brave enough to bring up religion?"

me: wait until tomorrow - Huckabee will be saying criticism of him represents anti-Christian bias. By Thursday, he'll be wrapped in the flag calling critics un-American because "America is the land of the second chance." By Friday, the same conservatives criticizing him today will be saying that Huckabee is a victim of a left wing media smear campaign. By Saturday, everything will be back to normal until the next political scandal emerges.

Posted by: virginia | Dec 1, 2009 3:21:13 PM

It’s a perfect case indicating why the pardon power is wilting on the vine in most jurisdictions, including the federal government. For any executive who might face voters again, the political risks are unacceptable.

Historically, the pardon power resided with a monarch who never had to worry about re-election. It does not work the same way when it resides with an elected governor or president.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Dec 1, 2009 3:58:04 PM

Ditto to Virginia and federalist.

Can you imagine Huckabee having granted Clemmons clemency if his petition had said his Muslim faith made him turn his life around?

Posted by: someone | Dec 1, 2009 4:20:42 PM

Marc,

I've seen you say this sort of thing several times on this blog, but you simply don't know what you're talking about. The pardon power -- both commutations and post-release pardons -- was alive and well as a functioning (though ancillary) part of the criminal justice system until about 30 years ago. If I'm not mistaken, we've been electing governors and presidents for a lot longer than that. The cultural change that has led to the use of incarceration as the social policy tool of choice, and the concomitant rise in mandatory sentecing, the decline of the pardon power, etc., had little to do with the "risks" of clemency. Until around 1980, elected officials routinely undertook such risks.

Posted by: anon | Dec 1, 2009 4:21:36 PM

Marc, that is because monarchs never had to deal with Media Power like today. Imagine all the newspapers and ad space the "benefit of clergy" would sell now. Bill O'Reilly's "interview" with Huckabbe is an example.

O'REILLY: You know, Jessica's Law, and we hold the judges accountable. They won't explain why they do what they do. They hide behind some sort of statute or this and that.

Really, O'Reilly, this law and order guy, complains about the law and calls it hiding behind a statute. How did this happen? Some news "commentators" claim Tiger Woods thinks he's above the law. The only reason the usual suspects on Nancy Grace aren't calling him a narcissistic psychopath for exercising his rights to privacy and to remain silent is because he could sue whereas most can't. The other big crime story on Headline News is the White House party crash.

The tragic and petty are all equal only because they are newsworthy. Sometimes I wonder if the media isn't the narcissistic psychopath. There can be little doubt the 1st Amendment is slowly smothering the others.

Posted by: George | Dec 1, 2009 4:32:02 PM

I like Huckabee, I do. He's one of the few conservatives with an actual brain. He has every right to defend himself against unjustified attacks. That's a very Christian thing to do. What's rich is an atheist deciding what is or is not Christian. That's rich.

Being a Christian and being a hypocrite is perfectly consistent.

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 1, 2009 4:51:20 PM

Anon, I know precisely what I am talking about. I am well aware that, until around 30 years ago, executives did exercise the pardon/clemency power far more routinely. I am describing the situation as it exists today.

Surely you do not dispute that when an executive nowadays grants clemency in any situation that presents the slightest political risk, his opponents will take advantage of it?

Huckabee is not my first choice to be the next president, but it would be a tragedy if this incident were the reason he loses. It is another step in the de facto abolition of the pardon power. Things have been trending that way for a long time, and I don’t see it going back.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Dec 1, 2009 5:09:03 PM

"What's rich is an atheist deciding what is or is not Christian."

One doesn't have to be a believer to understand a particular religion.

And Huckabee is impugning people who aren't attacking him, namely the jurors, judge and prosecutors of Clemmons who obtained the, as we can all see now, the correct sentence for him.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 1, 2009 5:09:27 PM

I believe in pardons. The pardon is barely hanging on now I hope that this is not the death blow. The pardon system needs to be revamped and taken out of the politicians hands. What politician who is not a lame duck would dare issue one now? uumh maybe they will just adapt the policy of the last two Governors of North Carolina and just absolutely refuse to issue any pardons at all for the smallest of crimes!!

Posted by: Anon | Dec 1, 2009 5:59:19 PM

"I am pleased and impressed that Huckabee has brought up the issues of race and class concerning extremely long sentences for juvenile offenders. Serious students of the criminal justice system know that race and class issues often simmer beneath the surface of many hot-button issues, and it is especially heartening to see a leading GOP figure bring these difficult issues to the surface."

1. Huckabee's use of race and class is unworthy and diversionary. He's in hot water politically, and deservedly so, so he wants to shift the discussion to something else.

2. Huckabee's status as "a leading GOP figure" will be coming to an end. It would be better for him to just say, "I granted clemency to Clemmons because it seemed tlike a good idea at the time, given his youth and the length of his sentence. It has now had disastrous consequences. I apologize for my role in it, because that's the only thing I can do at this point."

3. When I was an AUSA, I did not take account of race, class or gender in any official decision I made, and I would have sought the removal of any colleague who did. Prosecutors must concentrate on the defendant's behavior, not his identity.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 1, 2009 6:05:02 PM

Anon, it’s even worse than that. The executive needs to be a lame duck and have no intention of ever running for anything else again. And even when those conditions were satisfied by George W. Bush, he made comparatively little use of the power.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Dec 1, 2009 6:05:43 PM

I was impressed that Huckabee was candid enough to acknowledge the existence of the elephant in the living room of criminal justice--race. Anyone who disputes that hasn't tried too many capital cases.

bruce cunningham

Posted by: bruce cunningham | Dec 1, 2009 6:13:32 PM

"Me, I am an atheist."

God loves you anyway.

Posted by: Anonymous | Dec 1, 2009 6:22:06 PM

"Being a Christian and being a hypocrite is perfectly consistent."

Really? Doesn't speak too highly of Christianity.

Posted by: someone | Dec 1, 2009 6:31:28 PM

I can understand why this would be politically damaging, but I don't blame him for the killings.

The person who's at fault is now dead.

Posted by: Chris R | Dec 1, 2009 6:49:31 PM

Agreed that Huckabee shouldn't be slammed for this case in itself, because 108 years for a juvenile burglary/theft is ridiculous and a sign that we consider some children to be garbage that we can throw away. BUT he appears to have made a string of pardon decisions based on the convict's religious leanings and particular relationship to a pastor. Rehabilitation should not be measured by proclaimed (or even sincere) religious convictions. Pastors are not even as competent as psychologists (who are far from all-seeing) in discerning whether someone has deep-seated problems that will lead him to re-offend.

Posted by: PG | Dec 1, 2009 7:18:05 PM

"One doesn't have to be a believer to understand a particular religion."

That's true federalist. But it's a problem when you pass a judgment based upon that understanding. Anyone can understand but only insiders get to decide. Same as it is in the law.

"Being a Christian and being a hypocrite is perfectly consistent."

Really? Doesn't speak too highly of Christianity."

Actually, it speaks highly of Christianity because Christians are honest enough not to pretend that they transcend the human condition here on earth.

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 1, 2009 8:02:22 PM

someone --

Religion is a legitimate issue in the Ft. Hood massacre case because the killer was in frequent contact with a fanatical Imam for weeks before the shooting spree, and because during the spree, he is reported to have shouted "Allah is Great." Thus there is a substantial basis for suspecting the massacre was religiously motivated.

By contrast, there is no reason whatever to believe that Maurice Clemmons killed the four cops for any reason having to do with religion.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 1, 2009 8:09:11 PM

Those are the two phony factors always brought up by the criminal lover lawyer.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 1, 2009 10:00:59 PM

The correct factor is the devaluation of the race of the black victims of Clemmons. He kills white cops, everyone comes blasting.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 1, 2009 10:02:58 PM

i agree bill!

"someone --

Religion is a legitimate issue in the Ft. Hood massacre case because the killer was in frequent contact with a fanatical Imam for weeks before the shooting spree, and because during the spree, he is reported to have shouted "Allah is Great." Thus there is a substantial basis for suspecting the massacre was religiously motivated.

By contrast, there is no reason whatever to believe that Maurice Clemmons killed the four cops for any reason having to do with religion.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 1, 2009 8:09:11 PM"

More probably it was the 108 year sentence on top of the decade he did in prison as a teenager!

that caused the attack against the very police force i think dragged him into the prison sytem in the first place.

Posted by: rodsmith3510 | Dec 2, 2009 2:19:05 AM

Bill, I wasn't suggesting that Clemmons's crime was religously motivated; just that Huckabee's clemency grant was. And I wonder if either the MSM or the right-wing media is going to pick up on that. (Maybe they already have; I don't pay much attention to either one.)

Posted by: someone | Dec 2, 2009 11:55:03 AM

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