Since reporter Dafna Linzer's disturbing revelations about flaws in the federal commutation review process, there has been a growing movement to have the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA) investigated by Congress. The OPA reviews commutation requests from federal prisoners and provides recommendations to the president, but it has come under fire, and the pressure is building.
First, FAMM called for a congressional investigation of the OPA for misrepresenting key facts about the judge and prosecutor's support for Clarence Aaron's commutation -- which ultimately led to Aaron being denied a commutation in 2008 by President George W. Bush.
Second, FAMM and dozens of groups wrote to Congress asking for an investigation.
Third, Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) wrote to President Obama, asking him to instruct Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the allegations against OPA -- and if they're true, to commute Aaron's sentence.
And on May 24, FAMM will host a panel at the National Press Club to discuss why no one gets commutations, whether OPA is to blame, and what Congress should do about it.
The media is getting interested, too: MSNBC is covering the story, and Main Justice has taken note.
FAMM President Julie Stewart explains the importance of an investigation and reform of this broken system over at the American Constitution Society's blog:
Sadly, Mr. Aaron’s story, while tragic, may only be a symptom of a much larger problem. Linzer’s research confirms what Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) has suspected for years: It appears that commutation applicants are denied with little or no meaningful review. Even those who have demonstrated extraordinary rehabilitation and reform while incarcerated and who pose no real public safety threat remain behind bars. Barbara Scrivner, for example, has served 18 years of a 30-year sentence for her minor role in a nonviolent methamphetamine crime. Her commutation petition was denied despite having the support of the U.S. Attorney, the judge, and a congressman. If someone with that kind of support can’t get clemency, what does it take?
The president – and only the president – has the power to grant a commutation. However, Congress can – and must – exercise its oversight power to ensure that the Office of the Pardon Attorney, for which taxpayers foot the bill, is operating effectively and honestly, and providing the president with sound, unbiased advice. Congress has a responsibility to all American taxpayers and to those who seek justice through the commutation process to investigate the OPA.We'll keep providing updates on this story as it -- hopefully -- keeps picking up speed.