November 12, 2010
"Pardon people, too, Mr. President"
The title of this post is a fitting headline for this potent op-ed by Margaret Colgate Love in today's Washington Post. It is styled as an open letter to President Obama, and here are excerpts:
Dear Mr. President,
Media reports suggest that you will soon be engaging again in the ritual pardoning of a turkey.... If past is prologue, a substantial chunk of the news cycle, and your staff's time, will be devoted to this event.
Presidential turkey-pardoning is of relatively recent provenance. Until 1989, presidents were more inclined to make a meal of the annual gift from the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board. President George H.W. Bush inaugurated the practice of "pardoning" the turkey, and the tradition has been institutionalized along with the Annual Easter Egg Roll.
It is not clear what message the public is supposed to take away from this bit of holiday theater: It could have a spiritual dimension, recalling the sacrifice of grateful, hungry pilgrims; or it could suggest the imperial "thumbs up" that spared a vanquished gladiator. Perhaps the whole production is intended as a joke. What seems clear is that jet-age turkey-pardoning is preferred over the more venerable practice of pardoning human beings.
Mr. President, you have been in office almost two years now, and you have yet to pardon anyone. It may be that your advisers have cautioned that extending clemency to humans is politically risky, and discouraged you from acting favorably on any of the hundreds of pending applications that await your consideration. But this advice is at best shortsighted. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both waited too long to use their pardon power. In his new memoir, Bush describes the "frustration" and "disgust" he felt in his final days in office as well-connected insiders seeking pardons beat a path directly to his door. Bush seems oblivious to the fact that it was precisely his hands-off approach to pardoning throughout his tenure that led to the "last-minute frenzy" and "massive injustice" he decries, just as Clinton's neglect of his power had led to similar chaos and unfairness eight years before.
Pardoning people should not be that hard. In fact, it should be one of the happiest of your official duties. It requires no permission or negotiation with the other branches of government. It allows you to put your personal stamp on the justice system and to speak directly to the American people about it. Judicious pardoning has been an important legacy of some of our greatest presidents....
The federal prison population of roughly 200,000 includes many who have served decades for nonviolent drug offenses and others who deserve a second look to determine whether midcourse correction would be appropriate. Thousands of ordinary people living productive and law-abiding lives in this country are disqualified from opportunities and benefits because of a conviction record that may be decades old. These are people who have earned the second chance that a pardon represents. Your own attorney general has criticized these proliferating collateral consequences as a "recipe for high recidivism."
Mr. President, to date your only pardon was to a 45-pound tom named Courage. We were told that the name was chosen to honor the men and women in our military. It had a broader symbolism for those of us who wondered where along the way presidents had lost the resolve to use this most beneficent and personal of their constitutional powers. Come to think of it, it seems to have been lost about the same time they started pardoning turkeys.
It would indeed be welcome if this year you used the Thanksgiving ceremony to reconnect us with the tradition of pardoning that the Founders considered essential to a just system.
Relatedly, P.S. Ruckman over at Pardon Power is doing his usual great job documenting President Obama's clemency stinginess via these two recent posts:
The second of these potent posts at Pardon Power starts and ends this way:
In just a few days, President Obama will pass Bill Clinton as the slowest Democratic president in history to grant a pardon or commutation of sentence. If history is a guide of any value, he will grant a handful of pardons sometime a couple of weeks into December....
[W]hile some may be encouraged by the morsels of mercy that President Obama distributes while Santa Claus is in the neighborhood, let us be the first to complain. Shame on you, Mr. President. To date, your clemency policy certainly deserves nothing but contempt and scorn.
Regular readers know that I, too, have been harping on this topic since Inauguration Day in 2009 (see posts from late January 2009 here and here and here and here). Candidly, I am not especially surprised, though I am deeply disappointed, that President Obama has been a profile in cowardice on the clemency front. The modern philosophy inside the Beltway seems to always be to prioritize politics over principles, and it is dangerously easy in the clemency setting to conclude that all grants make for bad politics.
And yet, I genuinely President Obama's shameful clemency record has been very bad politics. With a few strategic and justifiable clemency grants, President Obama might have motivated his most liberal and libertarian supporters while perhaps even impressing his most aggressive critics. For example, a pardon to a veteran with a minor felony who is still disenfranchised could show the President's commitment to having everyone have their right to vote restored. A pardon to an elderly ex-con to enable him to go hunting again could show the President's commitment to Second Amendment rights. A commutation for a low-level crack offender like Percy Dillon, along with a statement about his commitment to equal justice and the fiscal savings from having him get back to being a federal taxpayer rather than a federal tax burden, could highlight that securing individualized and equal justice can also be economically wise. And so on.
But, instead of bringing the hope and change that President Obama promised on the campaign trail, in the clemency area we get the same old, same old. This reality will not stop me and Margaret Colgate Love and P.S. Ruckman from continuing to urge the President to shape up in this regard. But it also provides a strong reason why some of us hoping for a true courageous and principled leader in this arena will not be too troubled if this President before long gets shipped out.
Some older and newer related posts:
- "Obama's Mercy Dearth"
- Commentary on the decision points of pardon from President Bush
- Los Angeles Times calls out our "no-pardon president"
- "A no-pardon Justice Department"
- Fascinating report on backstory behind presidential pardon problems
- Interesting and notable federal clemency developments on two fronts
- DOJ resisting efforts to disinfect the federal celemency process with some sunlight
- "Grandmother Will Mark President's Day By Petitioning Obama To Commute Her 27-Year Prison Sentence For Non-Violent Crime"
- Effective USA Today coverage of President Obama's clemency stinginess
- "Obama should exercise the pardon power"
- Obama as Scrooge: no Christmas clemency grants
- Fitting complaints about an ugly clemency scoreboard: "Turkeys 2, humans 0"
- The true sentencing turkeys on this Thanksgiving eve
- Justified complaints that Obama's first pardon will be of a turkey
- "President Barack Obama proving stingy with his pardon power"
- Notable press stories noting Obama's lack of clemency action
- A simple plea for Prez Obama: grant at least a single clemency in your first 100 days
- When will President Obama start acting like President Lincoln when it comes to the clemency power?
November 12, 2010 at 08:40 AM | Permalink
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As usual, Margaret Colgate Love nails it. The Grinches at DOJ are a stubborn and mean-spirited bunch and appear to be dug in on the non-issuance of pardons and commutations. Perhaps President Obama will reconsider his position on this subject, but I doubt it. There are very few champions for disgraced felons and little political positives for the Chief Executive to change his ways.
Posted by: Mike | Nov 12, 2010 10:47:16 AM
"Thousands of ordinary people living productive and law-abiding lives in this country are disqualified from opportunities and benefits because of a conviction record that may be decades old. These people have earned the second chance that a pardon represents. Your own attorney general has criticized these proliferating collateral consequences as a "recipe for high recidivism."
"A pardon to a veteran with a minor felony who is still disenfranchised could show the President's commitment to having everyone have their right to vote restored. A pardon to an elderly ex-con to enable him to go hunting again could show the President's commitment to Second Amendment rights. A commutation for a low-level crack offender like Percy Dillon, along with a statement about his commitment to equal justice and the fiscal savings from having him get back to being a federal taxpayer rather than a federal tax burden, could highlight that securing individualized and equal justice can also be economically wise."
Professor, if you and Ms. Love really believe what you said in the two quotes above then I have a very difficult time understanding why there is so little support from either of you, or other like-minded persons, for pending legislation that will accomplish many of the same objectives. The most recent is H.R.5492 the "Fresh Start Act of 2010" introduced by Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee. The legislation allows certain first time, non-violent ex-offenders, who meet all of the requirements set forth in the bill, to make application to the original sentencing court for expungement of their criminal record. The important thing to remember is that the bill grants nothing but an opportunity. No one gets a "free ride".
This legislation offers a remedy to most of the issues that are mentioned in the above quotes. It removes the stigma of the collateral consequences mentioned by Ms. Love and the follow up reference to the same by Professor Berman regarding the return of ex-offenders to the role of taxpayer rather than tax burden. It will allow the elderly ex-offender mention by the Professor to be able to hunt, the veteran to be able to vote and on and on. The victims of over criminalization chronicled in two hearings held this year by Congressman Scott's subcommittee are another example of those who may benefit from this legislation. While the hearings made suggestions for reducing overcriminalization, there was no redress offered for the victims. This bill will offer that redress. It is a win-win for both the ex-offender and the tax payer.
Sadly,H.R.5492,like its predecessor H.R.1529, sits in the House Subcommittee chaired by, soon to be replaced, Congressman Bobby Scott and is, like its predecessor and the likely hood of an increase in pardons by the administration, almost surely doomed to fail. Hopefully Congressman Cohen will re-introduce the legislation to the new 112th Congress and perhaps the President will take a closer look at the dysfunctional pardon process.
Posted by: Thomas K | Nov 12, 2010 11:17:55 AM
There are so many individuals who could receive commutations. Commutations are a much more rare and lofty goal than a government grant, but I consider the granting of them to be equally arbitrary and capricious. In both situations, endless preparation expense and paperwork make up this effort of hope. Applicants must preen and polish and hope they have danced well enough to deserve some attention.
Pardons and Commutations have all but disappeared from our political landscape. I have suggestions for Obama. Senior non-violent, marijuana only offenders who have received sentences of life without parole. John Knock, 63 who received the harshest sentence in this category as a first time offender, Kenneth Kubinski, 63 who has three purple hearts and a bronze star, and Eugene Fischer 70 a Peace Corp volunteer and and the youngest USAID Capital Development officer.
I'm sure there are thousands of inmates who have been over charged and egregiously prosecuted for non-violent life style offenses who are in their senior years. These individuals would not be a threat to society and they would save taxpayers anywhere from $26,000.00 to $40,000.00 per year. Fiscal responsibility is one element of the argument, but it would also represent a return to a more civil society that acknowledges redemption and reconciliation.
Posted by: life for pot | Nov 12, 2010 12:07:52 PM
Thomas K: Though I cannot speak for Margy, I know that I have always been supportive of bills like "Fresh Start Act of 2010" and that Margy has been a champion of dealing with the harms of collateral consequences that present such fresh starts.
Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 12, 2010 1:27:17 PM
Thanks for the response Professor. I don't question your support for this type legislation but am suggesting that people like you and Ms. Love, who have the pulpit to do so, be more "out front' and vocal in your support. Supporters of H.R.5492 and H.R.129 have worked very hard to get the subcommittee referenced to simply acknowledge the need for such and hold a hearing to discuss the merits to no avail. In the last year or so, especially in the last few months in regard to '5492, individual letters, faxes, phone calls and petitions generating thousands of signatures and additional letters to Congress requesting action have gone un-answered. In regard to '1529, it has been around, in various versions (6 to be exact), since the year 2000 and has never had a fair and open discussion in committee. Active support from people like you and Ms. Love who are well-respected members of the legal community could go a long way to change that.
My point is that if someone supports the premise of a "second chance" offered by a pardon or commutation and speaks out in support, why so little "up front" support of alternate methods to achieve at least some of the same results.
Posted by: Thomas K | Nov 12, 2010 4:10:44 PM
Not to be the odd man out, but let me make five easy suggestions that will drastically, over time, reduce the prison population and with it, the campaign for clemency.
1. Don't steal stuff.
2. Control your temper.
3. Don't use violence except in urgent self-defense.
4. Don't lie or cheat in financial matters.
5. Stay away from drugs.
The reason I drop this unfortunate object in the clemency punch bowl is that it seems so easily forgotten that, before the system with all its warts kicks in, an individual human being makes a decision about how he's going to behave. What the culture actually needs most is not more pardons, but intact, responsible, and -- dare I say it -- traditional values families rearing children who won't need pardoning.
Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 12, 2010 5:41:41 PM
Despite being a rabid law and order type, I see the uspide of commutations and pardons. More than anything though, I see why politicians avoid them these days.
Look at the case of Maurice Clemmons in Arkansas. Mike Huckabee was presented with a case of a man given an 85 year sentence for a series of unarmed purse snatchings, burglaries and an assault committed as a juvenile. He was a model prisoner and had found God. Huckabee commuted his sentence so that he could make parole after serving a decade or so of his sentence. The parole board released him after he served 13 years, with the rest to be served on parole. When Maurice Clemmons killed 4 police officers in Seattle last year the story was "Huckabee released co killer".
While there were failures in the system (they should have revoked his parole after he drew a four year sentence for robbery in Washington) Huckabee reducing his sentence to a reasonable sentence for a teenage mugger was not one of them.
Posted by: MikeinCT | Nov 12, 2010 6:24:39 PM
Amen to all of that, Bill. But I would still guess that, even if the world were all into your 5 points, there will be disputes re ownership (and false charges of theft), laws would still be overly broad, the tendency of the government will be to over-regulate (and over criminalize), the wrong people will get convicted every now and then, sentences will be disproportionate, juries will be swayed by poor arguments, there will still be an over-zealous prosecutor here and there. As long as humans are around (good or bad), there will be a need for clemency.
Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Nov 12, 2010 9:53:25 PM
Would have expected absolutely no other response from Mr. "I Never Made A Mistake and You Shouldn't Either" Otis but thanks to P.S. Ruckman, Jr. for a much more realistic and reasonable response.
Posted by: Thomas K | Nov 12, 2010 10:29:59 PM
One could scarcely disagree with what you say. On the other hand, I didn't maintain that the usefulness of clemency would disappear. I maintained that it would be a lot less.
One might also note that there is a counterpoint to each of your points. For every legitimate dispute about ownership, there are 50 guys sticking a pistol in the clerk's ear to clean out the cash drawer. For every law thought to be overly broad (as the Supreme Court held the honest services statute was), there will be 50 corporate or banking bigshots swindling ordinary people. For every defendant given a disproportionately long sentence, there will be lots (I don't know how many) appearing before Nancy Gertner or Marilyn Patel, getting kisses blown at them. For every over-zealous prosecutor, there will be a lazy one who just doesn't want to be bothered and who'll sell the case for a nickel. Etc.
The point of my post was that it's unbalanced to point the finger solely at President Obama (or Bush or Clinton), taking no heed of the fact that convictions and sentences do not appear just by magic. With rare exceptions, they result initially from the defendant's choice of how he was going to conduct himself.
Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 12, 2010 10:49:28 PM
Thomas K --
Could you quote the comment where I said I never made a mistake? I'll wait.
P.S. I guess it would be asking too much of you to understand the difference between "making a mistake" and belting someone over the head with a tire iron to get his wallet. Or selling meth to a 15 year-old. Or a zillion other things that normal people correctly understand to be crimes and not "mistakes."
Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 12, 2010 10:58:31 PM
"Could you quote the comment where I said I never made a mistake? I'll wait"
Keep waiting. It is your attitude and tone that is your giveaway but that's OK, no one expects you to change
"P.S. I guess it would be asking too much of you to understand the difference between "making a mistake" and belting someone over the head with a tire iron to get his wallet. Or selling meth to a 15 year-old."
No more so than it would be asking to much of you to admit that the lifetime stigma and collateral consequences of a federal felony conviction for a 20 year old who did nothing more than make an online purchase of grow lights for her boyfriend are a little over the top.
Posted by: Thomas K | Nov 12, 2010 11:43:53 PM
And BTW Mr. O, her sentence was only 12 months probation. Still a felony though. Does she not, at some point, get to say "debt paid"? Not under the current system because thanks to hard charging tough on crime folks like you a felony is forever. Hey, when you got them down keep kicking them, right?
Posted by: Thomas K | Nov 12, 2010 11:49:49 PM
Thomas K --
1. So it's OK to attribute to me statements I never made??? To try to portray me as some kind of idiot who maintains he never made a mistake? Actually, I make mistakes every day. Trying to engage you in a civil exchange may well be one of the ones I made today. Forgetting to pick up toothpaste at the drugstore was another. It goes on and on......
2. My "attitude" and "tone" are that I expect people to be honest, non-violent and respectful of democratically adopted laws even if they don't agree with them (while being perfectly free to try peaceful persuasion to change them). What's wrong with that attitude?
3. Since you didn't answer, I'll ask again: You really don't understand the difference between a crime and a mistake?
Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 13, 2010 12:05:09 AM
Perhaps we need more clemency, pardons, parole and sentencing reform because so many actions now result in years and years of incarceration. During prohibition, a vast majority of prescriptions written were for medicinal alcohol. The quantity of wine purchased for religious sacraments also increased ten fold.
We did not have investigation, enforcement and prosecution of this obvious illegal production, distribution and sale of this unlawful substance because we didn't fund the bureaucracy needed to put all these citizens in prison.
That has changed. At one time I saw a picture of my Father's family farm in Iowa. On the back of the picture my Grandmother had written "Our Hemp Fields". When my Father was about 80 years old, I asked him if he ever smoked or drank alcohol - He thought for a moment and said, Well no, except when I was young we smoked a little rope behind the barn. I trust the connection is clear.
I kind of treasured that remark. I'm grateful that he grew up in the early 20th century when he could have a successful life without being arrested and jailed for the rope behind the barn.
Posted by: beth | Nov 13, 2010 12:15:06 AM
Bill says, "The reason I drop this unfortunate object in the clemency punch bowl is that it seems so easily forgotten that, before the system with all its warts kicks in, an individual human being makes a decision about how he's going to behave."
Love the smell of sanctimony in the morning.
But here's why you're wrong. With thousands of arcane, broad, sweeping federal laws on the books -- and legions of inventive, career-climbing, jaded, cynical agents and prosecutors ever on the prowl -- your smug bromides don't apply.
These days, virtually any American can end up in prison even if they don't steal, engage in violence, consume illegal drugs or lie or cheat in financial dealings.
That's because in our rapidly emerging police state, virtually any suspicion, well-founded or flimsy, can easily be matched to any number of malleable statutes. Looming punishments are sufficiently harsh to make even the innocent and wrongly accused eager to confess.
No, Bill, The beast is mean, powerful and voracious. And with the possible exceptions of you and Jesus, most of the rest of us are never more than an erroneous or malicious tip away from cowering in its presence...whether we realize it or not.
Posted by: John K | Nov 13, 2010 10:23:13 AM
...eager to confess (to lesser crimes).
Posted by: John K | Nov 13, 2010 10:52:22 AM
Well, Bill, that is an interesting theory. But you may have much more faith in government and human nature than I do. My guess would be that, if everyone tosses away their guns and drugs, then fines and sentences will be handed out for tanning booths, illegal light bulbs, .0000001 BAC, and/or happy meals. As my old man likes to say, "If the government cannot make money, it will steal it."
Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Nov 13, 2010 10:52:23 AM
"1. So it's OK to attribute to me statements I never made??? To try to portray me as some kind of idiot who maintains he never made a mistake?
Excuse me did I miss something? Exactly what "statement" did I attribute? I characterized you as "Mr. I never made a mistake and you shouldn't either". That characterization is purely mine. The "some kind of idiot" is yours. Mine is based on my impression of your over-inflated ego driven body of comments on this blog. I never "attributed" any such statement to you. WOW, you are good at diversion aren't you?
"3. Since you didn't answer, I'll ask again: You really don't understand the difference between a crime and a mistake?"
Actually, your comment above is a statement rather than a question but I do understand the difference very well. Do you? Apparently not as you, as usual, don't address the issue at hand, which is the lack of pardon/clemency activity by this, or any recent administration. Rather you pontificate and state the obvious that the way to reduce the need for pardons and clemency is to have no crime. Well DUH!!!! It would be nice to life in a perfect world but, as far as I am aware, there has only been one perfect person. The rest of us are human and do make mistakes. Some of those mistakes are not deserving of the effective lifetime punishment that the current system imposes.
Here are two questions for you. Is there a time when enough is enough and ex-offenders who are victims of over criminalization condemned by two Congressional hearings, overzealous lying prosecutors, etc. or have simply "paid their debt" should have the means and opportunity to seek a second chance with the reasonable expectation that their petition will receive a fair hearing? Is there ever a time when ex-offenders who meet the standards should have the opportunity to be free from the collateral consequences of a federal felony conviction? Certainly not the case with the existing pardon office and the current federal criminal justice system. This is the reason that I and many others support legislation such as the aforementioned H.R.5492. Legislation that only offers an opportunity for "consideration" of a second chance. It is an alternate path to consideration and grants no relief unless the applicant is deemed worthy by the courts and that includes giving the prosecutor another shot.
John K and Mr. Ruckman, great comments. I too "Love the smell of sanctimony in the morning." LOL
Posted by: Thomas K | Nov 13, 2010 11:21:45 AM
"Sanctimony" is John K's word for the expectation that adults will be accountable for their intentional behavior. This is also sometimes mocked as "Puritanism" or "judgmentalism."
Normal people recognize it as "having a sense of responsibility and expecting others to as well."
The problem we're having here is not "sanctimony." The problem is non-stop excuse making and the "I'm-a-victim" mentality of those who were instead victimizers, not victims. This "Poor-me-I'm-a-victim" view of the world is, quite oddly, combined with a snarling and belligerent attitude toward Those Not In Step. Thus I get accused of having taken the position that I never made a mistake, when I have never said or implied any such thing.
I haven't robbed or swindled anyone, I can tell you that. I don't use violence and, after my early adolescent years, never have. I'm not a druggie. This does not make me Jesus or in any other way perfect. It does make me a normal person and, John K to the contrary, a really poor candidate to wind up in prison.
It's too obvious for argument that SOME people deserve pardons. But since the Constitution makes the pardoning power entirely discretionary, there is no such thing as a particular time when a "demand" for a pardon, (or a still unspecified number of pardons) becomes authoritative in any recognizable sense.
What's actually going on here is not sanctimony but the usual arrogant condecension of those who think that after a certain interval of time -- which they don't announce in specifics but nonetheless loudly insist upon -- persons of their choosing, not the President's, get to walk away from their past criminality.
And, to repeat, some deserve to. But the indignant, hateful snarling at Obama, Bush and Clinton has gone overboard.
Thomas K --
I'll answer your questions when you strip them of their numerous tendentious assumptions and loaded phrasing, and when you ask them sans the insults. Your apparent impression that I'm your underling is, ummmmm, odd.
John K --
"These days, virtually any American can end up in prison even if they don't steal, engage in violence, consume illegal drugs or lie or cheat in financial dealings."
Please provide the percentage of the population that's in prison when they didn't steal, engage in violence, consume illegal drugs or lie or cheat in financial dealings. Then provide the source for your number. My estimate: way, way, way under one percent. But I will stand to be corrected by any authoritative figures you come up with.
"But you may have much more faith in government and human nature than I do."
The more typical accusation is that I have very little faith in human nature. My faith in government tends to vary with who's in charge. Right now it's not real high, aligning me with the great bulk of the population.
"My guess would be that, if everyone tosses away their guns and drugs, then fines and sentences will be handed out for tanning booths, illegal light bulbs, .0000001 BAC, and/or happy meals."
I don't know that there are criminal penalties for any of that stuff, but I could hardly agree more that left wing hyper-regulation and nanny-statism has gone completely nuts. The Happy Meals howler was so off the wall that it got vetoed by no less than Gavin Newsome.
Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 13, 2010 1:33:47 PM
"I'll answer your questions when you strip them of their numerous tendentious assumptions and loaded phrasing, and when you ask them sans the insults. Your apparent impression that I'm your underling is, ummmmm, odd."
No you won't. You will only continue to provide diversionary comments like this one just as I expected. Forget about it
Posted by: Thomas K | Nov 13, 2010 3:42:05 PM
Just add this to the long list of Obama's examples of dishonesty. Hope and change. Hope and change.
Posted by: federalist | Nov 14, 2010 8:52:35 AM
It's become an embarrassment even to say the words, "hope and change." What changes he has made were recently overwhelmingly repudiated by the voters, and the changes he hasn't made (Gitmo still open, no civilian trial for KSM, wanting to keep 98% of Bush's tax cuts, etc.) discredit his criticisms of his predecessor.
I will give him a break on pardons, though. His body language in the campaign was that more pardons would be forthcoming (and they yet may be), but he never made any specific promise about their number or timing, as Marc Shepherd pointed out.
His approval rating is 45% and headed down. I wish I saw some good news on the horizon for the country (and thus necessarily for him). If it's there, I'm missing it. Unlike Clinton, he's too ideological to triangulate, so the divisiveness he has brought upon the country will only accelerate.
Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 14, 2010 9:54:50 AM
Another potentially civil and illuminating comment thread hijacked by BO.
I mean, we are largely talking about *pardons* here, not commutations. That means most of the applicants served every freaking day of the sentence they were given under the law (minus potential 15% for good time, etc.). They are not making excuses or asking to avoid the primary punishment for their bad conduct/crimes/"mistakes." They are asking to be relieved from the innumerable, permanent collateral consequences of their convictions.
Further, many of them are not the kinds of violent offenders mentioned above. The statement above that "a felony is forever" was apt, and it applies to year-and-a-day sentences on relatively minor charges just as much as to bank robbery. If Obama wants to rule out all violent offenders from pardon, I would think that is a mistake (he should at least look for exceptional cases of rehabilitation), but even then that would leave thousands of potentially meritorious cases for pardons.
Smokescreens aside, this is not primarily an issue about violent crime -- although that is always a good way to divert the discussion in an incendiary direction. If we had sensible statutes that set some kind of time limit on collateral consequences (such as ending the ban on felon-in-possession 15, 20, or even 30 years after completion of the felony sentence), we might not need presidential action to restore basic rights to people who have been law-abiding citizens for decades. But we don't have sensible statutes, so we do need a sensible President.
(That said, I think Doug is kind of crazy to imply that he would support the challenger in the next presidential race based *solely* on pardon policy! I mean, talk about a single-issue voter. Not to mention the fact that there is little guarantee a new President will do anything differently.)
Posted by: Tired | Nov 15, 2010 11:33:35 AM
Indeed. How dare I mention the reason pardons are needed to begin with.
Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 16, 2010 2:46:27 AM