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July 13, 2007

More notable commutation ripples in the sentencing waters

I have started a new category archive entitled Post-Libby commutation developments, in part because the ripple effects of President Bush's sentencing work in the Libby case could take many forms and could last longer than Scooter's terms of supervised release.  (Indeed, a thoughtful sentencing advocate wrote me suggesting that everyone "interested in federal sentencing reform should welcome [the commutation], which is much bigger than Libby, and may be the most important development in federal sentencing since 1984.")

One notable ripple from the commutation stone thrown into the sentencing pond appears in this post from the blog at Stop the Drug War, which is entitled "We Want Pardons: Petition to Save Bush's Legacy by Persuading Him to Pardon Thousands of Nonviolent Drug Offenders and Not Be a Hypocrite."  The post provides the text to this on-line petition addressed to President Bush, and here are some excerpts from the petition: 

We, the undersigned, ask you to save your legacy by releasing thousands of nonviolent drug offenders from federal prison before you leave office.  Short of taking such a measure, you will be doomed to go down in history as a hypocrite.

Unlike President Clinton, you cannot point to a record of mercy toward people caught in the criminal justice system.  While the overall Clinton record in criminal justice was not lenient, he did commute the sentences of 63 people, most of them neither wealthy nor powerful, including 29 nonviolent drug offenders.

You, by contrast, commuted only three prisoners' sentences prior to helping Scooter Libby, one every two years.  You have pardoned four times as many Thanksgiving turkeys as people you've released from prison....

You have a year and a half left to prove that justice is for everyone -- not just for your friends. Will you rise to the occasion?  History is watching.

Similarly, this new editorial from Newsday, entitled "Use Libby case to fix sentencing," seeks to make lemonade from Libby lemons.  Here is an snippet:

Though not Bush's intention at all (which is clear from the pile of 2,500 commutation and 1,000 pardon requests sitting at the Department of Justice), the president, by calling Libby's sentence "excessive," cast attention on minimum sentencing guidelines, the very ones his administration has been working to make mandatory.  The message behind Bush's self-protective benevolence has validity despite its messenger and surrounding circumstances.

July 13, 2007 at 03:03 AM | Permalink


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It seems. Prof., we should directly consider a discussion of the issue which we are dancing around: should the explanations that presdents give have (or be given) the status of formal policy? Should that policy then be implemented retroactively, to all similiarly circumstanced indivduals? Should presidents refuse to exercise clemency where 1)their resoning is not in line with interpretations of current sentencning guidelines or 2) they are not willing to apply clemency retroactively to all similiarly situated persons. And, finally, if the answer to any of the above is "yes," why even have the pardon power to begin with? Why not just trust the judiciary to always be right and run free, unsrestrained by all of this silly checks and balances stuff?

Posted by: PSRuckman | Jul 13, 2007 8:13:51 AM

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