Elizabeth Warren Adopts Cory Booker's Plan for a Better Presidential Clemency System

Shifting the process from the Justice Department to the White House can help eliminate bureaucracy and meddling from prosecutors.


Sen. Cory Booker (D–N.J.) failed to make much of an impact in his Democratic presidential campaign, but he did have a really good plan to deal with clemency if he were elected. Now Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) is adopting his plan into her own criminal justice reform proposal.

Last summer, Booker proposed making it easier and quicker for nonviolent federal drug offenders to seek clemency by shifting the process from the Department of Justice to the White House and creating a clemency panel to oversee the process. In particular, Booker's plan would reduce the power of federal prosecutors to determine which clemency applications make it to the president's desk and whether they arrive with a recommendation for denial or approval.

Warren is also supporting Booker's plan to prioritize clemency for older inmates incarcerated for longer terms, and his proposal to quickly identify and focus on prisoners who would have benefited retroactively from sentencing changes under the First Step Act and other reforms. This second aspect is important because legislative changes to statutory sentencing practices do not automatically apply to prisoners currently serving time. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, is a prime example of a good reform that unfortunately lacked retroactive language.

Warren's updated plan notes:

Research shows that people tend to age out of crime and are substantially less likely to recidivate, but today thousands of elderly people remain behind bars. And those serving sentences equivalent to life in prison are disproportionately black and brown, many serving time for nonviolent crimes or crimes committed as juveniles. We are not any safer as a nation for their incarceration, nor is equal justice being served.

It's a change criminal justice reformers have been recommending for some time and one with bipartisan appeal. President Donald Trump's administration is considering something similar.