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February 7, 2008

Providing a positive spin on the pardon attorney scandal

Former US Pardon Attorney Margaret Colgate Love sent me this e-mail which suggests good might come from the latest disturbing news from the US Pardon Attorney's Office:

It occurred to me that the ugly situation in the Pardon Attorney's Office, as reported in the New York Times op-ed piece by George Lardner and in Tuesday's AP piece, has at least one silver lining: It offers an opportunity to restore the Justice Department's pardon program to its historical role as the source of fair and impartial advice about clemency cases.  That act would be the most valuable pardon legacy any president has left for three decades, and it would more than redeem President Bush's otherwise undistinguished pardoning record.

Since the late 1970's, when Jimmy Carter's attorney general Griffin Bell delegated responsibility for making clemency recommendations to the chief operating officer of the Justice Department, the pardon program has lost whatever independence and integrity it once enjoyed within the Department. In recent years, it has functioned primarily to ratify the results achieved by prosecutors, not to provide any real possibility of revising them. As a result, it has lost its capacity to serve and protect the presidency -- as demonstrated by the fiasco at the end of the Clinton admnistration. Now, in selecting a new pardon attorney, the attorney general has an opportunity to consider whether the present administrative arrangement is a desirable one. More particularly, he can decide whether to maintain the office's subservience to the prosecutorial agenda, or to appoint a person genuinely willing and able to do what the 1887 report to Congress, quoted by Lardner, proposed: "to accord to the convict all that he may be fairly entitled to have said in his favor."  Whatever the outcome of the selection process, the exercise itself should give rise to a much-needed discussion of the role of pardon in today's justice system.

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February 7, 2008 at 08:20 AM | Permalink


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I have seen Ms. Love make this observation before and I wonder how it can be explored. Why did Bell do what he did? What prompted him to do it? Why the Carter administration, of all administrations?

One can't help but wonder what sort of attention all of this would be getting were we not in the middle of a presidential campaign? On the other hand, it seems there is a very real opportunity for the pardon power to become part of the public discussion if Clinton or Huckabee are nominees, and Obama too (although for different reasons). In sum, there is potential here.

Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Feb 7, 2008 2:28:11 PM

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