Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Goodlatte On Presidential Commutation Power

In the past few weeks, President Obama commuted the federal prison sentences of 214 people. As a result, Obama has now commuted more sentences than his nine predecessors combined. However, his pardon grants have lagged significantly behind. Thus, depending on the political spin, President Obama is doing way too much or way too little in exercising the power explicitly given to his office by the Constitution of the United States.

As reported by the Washington Post and News Virginian, the Chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, is not happy:
'I am deeply concerned that President Obama has continued to use his pardon power for a total of 562 commutations during his presidency,' Goodlatte said. 'Additionally, the fact that the Justice Department’s clemency initiative is focused solely on federal drug offenders continues this administration’s plainly unconstitutional practice of picking and choosing which laws to enforce and which laws to change.'
There is a reason for picking drug offenders for commutations. Moreover, to suggest it is "plainly unconstitutional," is just a wrong statement of Constitutional Law.

However, it was Rep. Goodlatte's next stream of constitutional garbage that piqued my ire:
The congressman further said that the president’s actions were 'not, as the Founders intended, an exercise of the power to provide for ‘exceptions in favour of unfortunate guilt.' Instead, Goodlatte said, Obama is using his power to commute sentences 'to benefit an entire class of offenders who were duly convicted in a court of law — not to mention [his actions are] a blatant usurpation of the lawmaking authority of the legislative branch.'
The linked Washington Post story quoted a favorite blogger of mine, P.S. Ruckman who writes at the blog Pardon Power concerning these statements:
 [Goodlatte] says the Founders intended the clemency power to provide only 'exceptions in favour of unfortunate guilt.' God forbid he would read the rest of the language around that snippet from the Federalist Papers. He might discover [Alexander] Hamilton’s discussion of the political use of pardons, for example, to quell insurrections. He might also discover Hamilton’s observation that criminal codes have an almost natural tendency toward over-severity. Therefore, says Hamilton, there should be 'easy access' to mercy. (emphasis added).
Alexander Hamilton always seems be to there to inform, even after almost 225 years, does he not? Pardon by way of commutation has been greatly underutilized by recent Presidents. President Obama has wielded the commutation sword because he has been the first to fully understand the damage wrought by our failed drug wars. I am hoping in the coming months he will using this power much more.

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