That's the title of this piece over at The Huffington Post by FAMM special projects director Molly Gill, calling on President Obama to fix the pardon attorney's office and commute Clarence Aaron's sentence.
How could President Obama serve justice, show mercy, and correct appalling wrongdoing by a government official -- all without the approval of Congress?
He could commute the sentence of Clarence Aaron, a model prisoner and first-time, nonviolent drug offender serving life without parole in federal prison for a stupid decision he made 20 years ago. Commuting Aaron's sentence should be one of the easiest decisions President Obama ever makes, especially because Aaron's commutation, supported by his judge and prosecutor, was derailed during the last administration by current U.S. pardon attorney Ronald Rodgers.
Recent reporting from ProPublica's Dafna Linzer reveals that in 2008, the White House, lacking positive recommendations for commutations from the pardon attorney, looked through denied applications and found Clarence Aaron's petition. The White House asked for a new review of his case. Rodgers misrepresented key facts about the prosecutor and judge's support for Aaron's commutation to then-associate White House counsel Kenneth Lee. Those misstatements led the White House, which had been very interested in the case, to deny Aaron's petition. Aaron reapplied; that application has been pending at the pardon attorney's office since 2010.
Unfortunately, this case is only a symptom of a much deeper infection. At a panel at the National Press Club last week, Linzer and Sam Morison, an attorney who spent 13 years at the pardon attorney's office, described how that office has abandoned its mission of providing unbiased, objective advice to the president on each case. The office recommends that virtually every commutation request -- no matter how unjust the sentence or deserving the applicant -- be denied. Staff jokingly nicknamed the pardon attorney's office the "Façade of Concern," Morison said.
Data support Morison's claims. During the Bush administration, the pardon attorney gave favorable recommendations in only six of 8,600 commutation requests; in three of those, the prisoners had only a few months remaining on their sentences. In the last four years, 7,000 requests have been denied, at the rate of seven petitions a day. Most cases, Morison says, never get an individualized, meaningful review.For virtually all federal prisoners, a presidential commutation is the only path out of prison early. Commutations do justice, show mercy, affirm the rehabilitation efforts of prisoners, give people fresh starts, reunite families, save taxpayers the cost of incarcerating people who are no longer dangerous ... we could go on and on. President Obama should grant more commutations -- and the key to getting started is making sure the process actually works.