A new article by ProPublica's Dafna Linzer provides the latest in the ongoing saga of the investigation of the Office of the Pardon Attorney, the small Justice Department office that has come under fire in recent months for its appallingly poor handling of pardon and commutation requests.
Linzer's series of investigative articles into the pardon review process has revealed disturbing racial disparities in who gets pardons and misrepresentations of key facts in one commutation applicant's case by the pardon attorney, Ronald Rodgers.
According to Linzer's latest article, the Justice Department is planning a one-year survey of pardon data to double check Linzer's findings that whites are four times more likely to receive pardons as blacks.
In June, the Justice Department published an outline of the survey for contractors bidding to conduct it. The research will be expected to "test the primary hypothesis that, all other things being equal, African Americans and other minorities are less likely to progress in the pardon adjudication process than applicants of other races," the outline said.
The government's survey will focus exclusively on pardons, which convey forgiveness for federal crimes, and will not include commutations, which shorten federal prison sentences. Though presidents make the final decisions on petitions for clemency, they rely heavily upon recommendations from the Office of the Pardon Attorney, an arm of the Justice Department, to guide their determinations.
According to the study outline, the Justice Department review will be similar in many regards to the analysis ProPublica conducted for its report.
One key difference between the reviews is that the government review will consider the influence of subjective categories, such as an applicant's level of remorse and acceptance of responsibility, on the success of pardon applications, the survey outlines said. It is unclear how researchers will quantify such variables.
The government study also will be overseen by a steering committee that will include staff from the pardons office, giving insiders a hand in the process.Should pardon attorney insiders be involved in this review, given the serious allegations that have come to light in recent months? How will the study determine whether and to what extent these "subjective categories" of "remorse and acceptance of responsibility" played a role in pardon outcomes? How will the study's findings be used to improve the clemency review process and ensure that all applicants are receiving the consideration they merit?
We don't know the answers to these questions, but we will continue to watch this unfolding drama carefully and blog about the findings as they come our way.