Will President Obama Commute Clarence Aaron’s Sentence?

Pro Publica’s investigative piece revealing everything that went wrong in the processing of Clarence Aaron’s pardon application at the tail-end of the Bush Administration has brought some renewed attention to both Aaron’s case and the Office of the Pardon Attorney that handles such requests.

Clarence Aaron is serving life in prison on drug-related charges despite not being involved in their purchase or distribution. Though the U.S. Attorney and the District Judge both recommended Aaron’s sentence be commuted, that recommendation never got to President Bush, having been lost along the way by the pardon attorney, Ronald Rodgers.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s “token conservative” columnist Debra Saunders, who’s been advocating for clemency for Clarence Aaron for nearly a decade, called on President Obama to pardon Aaron yesterday:

Barack Obama has a decision to make. The president has the power to pardon when the criminal justice system overreaches. The court put away a first-time nonviolent offender for life with no chance of parole, but because the feds do not want to admit they made a mistake, Rodgers and his ilk have been willing to let a young man rot in prison for the rest of his life. The only question is: Will the president let him get away with it?

While Ronald Rodgers is still on the job as pardon attorney, there’s no requirement that the president’s pardon be approved by the pardon attorney’s office first.  The ability to pardon is a Constitutional power afforded solely to the president. Unlike, say, his power to wage war (at least theoretically necessitating a Congressional declaration of war first) or his power to negotiate treaties (which need to be ratified by the Senate), the president’s power to pardon is unchecked by any other branch and rests in his hands alone.

Moreover, from ProPublica:

President Obama's former White House counsel Gregory B. Craig said the president could issue an executive order eliminating the pardon office. "We cannot improve or strengthen the exercise of this power without taking it out of the Department of Justice," Craig said.

And unlike, say, the executive order to shut down Guantanamo, an executive order eliminating the pardon office couldn’t be subverted by an unwilling Congress, because it doesn’t require additional funding or Congressional authorization.

As for the public pressure that might be necessary to get the president to act, petitions to commute Clarence Aaron’s sentence on the White House’s petition site as well as on Change.org are not doing so well yet.

As Jacob Sullum noted about the Clarence Aaron case and presidential pardons earlier this week, while President Bush granted one in a thousand commutations, President Obama has commuted fewer than one in 5,000 sentences, freeing exactly one person from jail and continuing the trend of modern presidents underutilizing their power to pardon while seeking more power almost everywhere else.

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  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    He probably hasn't contributed big bucks to the re-election fund. Pay to play!

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    Hey, thanks for the follow up nut kick, Radle...I mean, Ed!

    Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow....

  • daveInAustin||

    Gary Johnson should make this a campaign issue. Rush Limbaugh did more conspiracy to traffic drugs than this guy, but he didn't do a single day in jail.

  • fried wylie||

    "Fuck You, That's Why."

  • Winded||

    These are the sorts of courageous acts Obama will be able to take once he is re-elected. Doesn't everyone see how important the 2012 election is?

  • ||

    If I were president, a large chuck of each day would be set aside to review such questionable cases, issuing pardons to people like Aaron. Even if I ordered just a dozen pardons a day, I'd feel like my term in office would have amounted to a net good.

    That is, if I couldn't get away with issuing a blanket pardon to all nonviolent drug offenders.

  • CloneOfThrawn||

    You'd only get by with that if you had to spend an equal amount of time finding new and exciting places to kill brown people.

  • fried wylie||

    I'd be too busy weilding the veto pen to pardon anyone in a 4yr term. I'd need at least 4 terms to get through all the vetos.

  • fried wylie||

    (wait, sorry, you're not allowed to retroactively veto legislation. dammit)

  • Raymond Luxury Yach-t||

    Blanket pardon for any non-violent drug convictions.

  • ||

    Blanket pardon for any non-violent drug convictions.

    Ideally, yes. I have to think that they'd find a way to block it, though.

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