Last February, after long delays, the Justice Department sent President Obama hundreds of recommendations on requested pardons, each one carefully selected for a quick decision under standards for clemency that presidents have followed for decades.
Under these standards, no pardon can be recommended unless a petitioner has been out of prison and law-abiding for at least five years.
I’m sorry: all presidents who’ve accepted this “standard” are very much in the wrong. This is an enormous evasion of responsibility – one need only read about cases like this. Or this. Oh yeah, there’s the whole way law and order works in this country; there are incentives to lock up as many people as possible, no matter what. There was an article in Time a while ago arguing that one reason the crime rate is down might be that we put everyone and their mother in jail.
It’s probably true that individual cases are best handled on a state and local level. But the President’s power is no small thing – he can set the innocent free. He was not given this power just for the heck of it. Maybe I’m naïve, but if I were President, you’d better believe that every single request for pardon would be looked into as quickly as possible. If the government’s job isn’t correct enforcement of the law, what is it?