Recently in Clemency Category

The Wall Street Journal explains that Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia has thumbed his nose at an order of the highest court in the state in the name of giving an en masse benefit to felons:

President Obama has charted new levels of executive defiance, but even he hasn't refused to obey a Supreme Court ruling. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has sought to follow Mr. Obama's executive hubris, and now he's gone further and is acting in contempt of the court that has rebuked him.

In July the Virginia Supreme Court struck down his executive order restoring voting rights to 206,000 felons. Under Virginia law the Governor can grant clemency on an individual basis. But the justices wrote that "Governor McAuliffe's assertion of 'absolute' power to issue his executive order" runs "afoul of the separation-of-powers principle" in the Virginia constitution. The individual clemency power, the court admonished, "does not mean he can effectively rewrite the general rule of law."

Mr. McAuliffe replied that he "cannot accept" the ruling...He has since acted on his defiance by restoring rights to some 13,000 felons who had already registered to vote when the state Supreme Court's decision invalidated his executive order.

If anyone on the Left has denounced McAuliffe for his open defiance of the rule of law, I haven't heard about it. But being pro-criminal in Leftist culture means never having to say you're sorry, court order or no court order.

I'm having trouble recalling the exact date, but it was around 1998 when President Dole announced that, in view of the tidal wave of crime against which the country had made decent, but still insufficient, progress, he was proud to announce that his administration had secured more prison terms exceeding 20 years than his nine predecessors combined.  Mr. Dole acknowledged that so many long sentences might be viewed by some as extremism.  His reply was that, given the burdens the threat of ubiquitous crime impose on the practical liberty of our citizens, "extremism in the defense of liberty was no vice."

The New York Times was having none of it.  Its editorial was unambiguous:

We had thought that breast-beating exhortations like "extremism in the defense of liberty" had seen their last when Barry Goldwater's landslide loss put extremism in the cold light of a sober nation's reflection.  

It is true that crime had risen to unacceptable levels during the George H.W. Bush Administration, but we have made six years of progress in scaling it back without President Dole's resort to criminal justice extremism.  

A balanced and mature approach to justice requires that a President show at least a modicum of respect to a consensus that has lasted for more than 50 years, through prior administrations and political climates of all stripes. When, to the contrary, a chief executive's sentencing outcomes push past those of his nine predecessors combined, he has simply gone off the deep end, there's no other honest way to put it. This is not a defense of liberty. It's a defense of the President's out-of-the-mainstream ideas, a sop to the most extreme elements of his base, and it has to stop.

President Obama and those taking the side of the criminal continue to be delighted with the more than 200 commutations handed out Wednesday.  The sheer number produces glee; the White House proudly points out that it's the most granted in a single day since at least 1900.

But not everyone is on the radical pro-criminal side.  Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, tends toward a more sensible view.  Goodlatte favors some aspects of sentencing reform  --  and his support will be essential should the reform movement revive itself in the next Congress  --  but he's no one's version of an extremist.  And he's more than a little concerned about both the number of clemencies and the broad-brush approach the Left has taken toward using the clemency power. Hence, as noted in this news report from Goodlatte's congressional district:

Rep. Bob Goodlatte said he is "deeply concerned" about the size and scope of those commutations -- including the 214 approved Wednesday -- saying the president's actions are a "blatant usurpation" of Congress's authority....

Answer:  When Barack Obama is handing out clemency to drug felons.  If they were packin' heat on the street corner, well, look, boys will be boys.  

The important thing is to shimmy down the prison population.  If the federal recidivism rate is half (49.3%, exactly), and crime across America is skyrocketing, please, get over it.  We need to "rebuild our communities"  --  with drug pushers.

Heather MacDonald lays it out in her telling piece in the National Review.

President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 214 federal prisoners yesterday, part of his ongoing crusade against a criminal-justice system he regularly declares racist and draconian. The White House trumpeted the fact that this was the largest one-day grant of clemency since 1900....

Many of the commuttees possessed stolen firearms or firearms with their serial numbers obliterated. Some were in violation of National Firearms Registration, which can mean possession of a federally prohibited weapon, such as a machine gun, silencer, or sawed-off shotgun. We don't know how many guns the offenders actually had; a commuttee during a previous batch of commutations had 40. 

Nor does the Justice Department's press release disclose the actual incidence of firearm possession by these federal convicts. Gun possession can be used to increase a federal sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines without a prosecutor's actually bringing a formal charge. A gun charge can also be plea-bargained away. Many advocates of criminal-justice reform believe in maximum gun control, yet White House press releases on the president's commutations have been silent on the widespread incidence of illegal gun possession.

The Jailbreak Accelerates

President Obama is often accused by conservatives of being a failure.  I respectfully dissent. The President is actually a remarkable success  --  at what he wants to do.  

One of those things is abrogate hundreds, if not in the end thousands, of legal sentences for trafficking very dangerous drugs.  Hence today's latest installment of the mass jailbreak:

President Obama commuted the sentences of 214 people serving federal sentences on Wednesday -- the most commutations issued by a president in a single day since at least 1900 -- White House officials told BuzzFeed News.


Including Wednesday's commutations, Obama has granted a total of 562 commutations -- a number that the White House says is more than the previous nine presidents combined but that has been questioned by some advocates...

Now, when a President commutes more sentences than his nine predecessors combined  --  that would be going back more than 50 years  --  some might say that this reflects an extremist view of clemency. But no!  Barack Obama is the only one marching in step!  Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush II were all out of step.

Now I understand.

Kent wrote here about Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's blanket order restoring the voting rights of about 200,000 felons in that state.  This afternoon, the Virginia Supreme Court nullified McAuliffe's order.

Full participation in democracy is, in the abstract, a good thing.  And doing what we can to bring back into the system felons who understand the wrongfulness of their behavior and have corrected it is part of that.  Restoring the vote for those who continue to believe (and, often, to act) as if law is for other people, and rules are for suckers, is a different matter. That would certainly seem to be more an abuse than a use of this aspect of executive power.

At the end of the story linked above, Gov. McAuliffe is reported to have said he would effectively defy any court order contrary to his liking:  "I will sign 206,000 orders. They will have their rights back that day."

He is welcome to proceed, as far as I'm concerned.  Signing 206,000 orders in a day will obviously reflect exactly the mass "consideration" the Court forbade today, and thus will earn McAuliffe a contempt citation.

UPDATE:  As the first commenter points out, I failed correctly to link the WTOP story.  I apologize for this error, which I have rectified.  That said, the story states, as I quoted, "I will sign 206,000 orders. They will have their rights back that day."  In other words, it makes crystal  clear that McAuliffe intends to attempt to do by poorly disguised indirection what the Court has forbidden, to wit, grant a mass  pardon.

Blanket Restoration of Felon Voting

"No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority."  -- Virginia Constitution, Article II, Section 1.

This provision is clearly intended to allow the Governor to restore voting rights, among other rights, upon an individualized determination that the person has actually "gone straight."  Is it limited to that?  Former Governor Tim Kaine (D) thought so.

Or does it empower a governor to effectively repeal the disqualification provision by entering a sweeping restoration of voting rights to all felons?  Present Governor Terry McAuliffe (also D) thinks so.  The WSJ has this editorial.

Why does Governor McAuliffe want more criminals to vote, whether they are rehabilitated or not?  Simple.  Criminals perceive -- correctly -- that on the whole Democrats are more likely to favor their interests as opposed to the interests of law-abiding people.  That tendency has been somewhat less pronounced in recent years than it was in earlier years, but the difference is coming back, as noted Bill's and my posts of Monday. 

Hence, criminals -- especially those who have not gone straight -- will vote for the Democratic Party in greater proportion than law-abiding people do, and in a close election the criminal vote may tip the scale.  After 2000, the Florida recount, and all that, we must recognized that such matters could have serious consequences.

The editorial notes that the Virginia Supreme Court heard arguments on the question Tuesday.
This New York Times editorial spills the beans on the realistically possible scope of Pres. Obama's plans for mass clemency. Its most revealing sentences are:

After seven years in office, Mr. Obama has issued a total of 184 commutations and 66 pardons -- more grants, as the White House wasted no time in pointing out, than the last six presidents combined....By the administration's own estimates, [however], as many as 10,000 people could be released under the new criteria, former Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. told The Washington Post this month. So why is Mr. Obama continuing to make grants in the single or double digits?

The NYT misses the obvious answer to this question.  Mr. Obama, a shrewd politician if nothing else, is waiting for Republicans, sometimes (and often aptly) called the Stupid Party, to give him political cover.  He knows that, at his urging and with his support, the Republican Senate is considering its own mass clemency, to wit, a bill that would significantly lower sentences and do so retroactively.  That this is markedly unpopular with the public has not sunk in with the Stupid Party, at least not yet.

Why should Mr. Obama take the (fully deserved) political risks of mass clemency when the Stupid Party will do the work for him  --  and take the blame too?  Mr. Obama can kill two birds (actually, three) with one stone  --  he'll stoke his core liberal interest groups, weaken America with more crime, and quite plausibly pin it all on the political opposition!

Republicans often chide Obama for being full of himself.  But if he pulls off a trifecta like that, who could blame him?

The only fly in the ointment is that Republicans might wake up at the last minute and make Obama do the lifting for, and take  ownership of, his own pro-criminal agenda.  True, revived alertness from Republicans will do nothing to save the country from the Presidentially-engineered recidivist crime wave  --  this on top of the present murder and heroin crime wave  --  but it will have at least the virtue of pinning responsibility for it where it belongs.

Will the Republicans wake up?  Some, like Sen. Mike Lee, seem too ideologically dug in to hear the alarm clock.  But there is realistic hope that more serious men, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will understand how Republican-sponsored mass clemency will weaken both the Party, and more importantly, the country, and let the Senate sentence reduction bill die the quiet legislative death it deserves.

That way, if and when Obama goes through with his mass executive clemencies  --  say, the day after the election we're having in ten months  --  at least it will be clear who owns the ensuing recidivism spree.
The National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys has issued a press release questioning the President's mass clemency, and asking for disclosure of more information about its recipients.  NAAUSA notes:

On Friday, December 18, President Obama, working in conjunction with the Justice Department, ordered the early release of another 91 convicted drug traffickers from fully lawful sentences their criminal behavior had earned. This brings to approximately 150 the number of traffickers given early release through executive clemency in just the last 14 months.

When it announced the clemency project, the Administration committed to granting clemency only if six specific criteria were met, including that the defendant was a non-violent, low-level offender, did not have a significant criminal history, and had no history of violence. Sadly, that has not been the case.

In fact, many of the drug traffickers being released had armed themselves (one with 40 firearms); many were leaders or supervisors in their crimes (one was the lead defendant in a 69 day trial); many had multiple prior felony convictions (one had 8 prior felony drug trafficking convictions); and the vast majority were involved in conspiracies to distribute large quantities of dangerous drugs, often hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of methamphetamine or cocaine.

Significantly, these clemency releases are in addition to the 46,000 drug traffickers who are being released through retroactive softer sentences the White House and the Justice Department sought from the U. S. Sentencing Commission. As has been widely reported, 6,000 to 8,000 of these convicted drug traffickers were released early last month, and another 8,500 will be released in the next ten months. 

No one is claiming these released traffickers are innocent, nor that the drugs they trafficked are harmless. No one is claiming that some -- probably most -- won't do it again. In fact, this class of drug offenders deals in potentially lethal drugs and has a high rate of recidivism (up to 77% according to a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics). And no one can provide certainty that addicts - the young, the old, the weak and the vulnerable - will not die as a result of these releases.

That Didn't Take Long

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I noted last week that Washington state, ever in the vanguard of progressive criminal justice (such as its Governor's refusal to carry out lawful executions), had given early release to thousands of prisoners.  This was earlier than intended, mind you, and it was less progressivism than garden-variety carelessness, despite the numerous assurances we hear that early release programs will be carried out with great discretion.  They will, so we are told, keep us just as safe as we are now.

No doubt, unless you're Lindsay Hill, or, more correctly, the late Lindsay Hill.  Here's the story:

A Washington state prisoner mistakenly released early because of a computer error has been charged with killing his girlfriend in a car crash when he should have been behind bars, officials said Monday.

The revelation comes a week after Gov. Jay Inslee announced that a software coding error led as many as 3,200 offenders to be wrongly released since 2002. He has ordered a review of prisoner releases ahead of a broad fix to the software problem, which is expected early next month.

One of those freed was Robert Jackson, 38, who walked out of prison Aug. 10, four months too soon. He had been convicted of robbery with a deadly weapon and should have been released Dec. 6.

During that time, he fled from a Nov. 11 wreck in Bellevue that killed his girlfriend Lindsay Hill, 35, who was riding in the car he was driving, according to prosecutors and Department of Corrections officials.

Jackson has been charged with vehicular homicide and felony hit-and-run and is being held in jail on $2 million bail, prosecutors said.

He was speeding and impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident, prosecutors said.

Gosh, what a surprise that a previously convicted felon would flout the law again!

...until it actually starts, in which can read about it here.

This is enough to make Prop 47 seem like a model of paying attention.
The reason is that Barack Obama will do the "reforming" all by himself.  He showed this again today by issuing yet more (literal) "get-out-of-jail-free" cards.  He has now issued more commutations than his immediate four predecessors combined  -- Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.  But that's OK, because we know that Obama is a more humane and far-sighted man than any of those cretins.  Either that, or his political base is rooted in criminality and the Soros-funded interest groups that speak up for it, and him.

There several notable things about today's dozens of clemencies  --  notable for their implications about politics, governance, and justice.  For now, I want to discuss just one: The red flag raised for pro-sentencing "reform" Republicans.

DOJ Formally Launches Next Crime Wave

The LA Times story begins:

About 6,000 drug offenders will be released from federal custody over the next few days, but some legal experts warn that the government has done too little to help many of them successfully reintegrate into society.

Note the assumption that responsibility rests with the government to "reintegrate" those released, rather than upon them to lead normal, honest lives.

Still, moving right along. let me ask this:  When these people start up with a criminal life again, as we know in advance many and very likely most of them will, who will be accountable for the release decisions, and who will pay the price for the harm then caused?

My prediction is nobody and nobody.

Hold me to it.
CJLF has blogged from time to time about the mass clemencies the President is planning (now that he will not have to face the voters again).  In order to facilitate the clemencies, and the spike in crime we know is sure to follow, the Clemency Project is busy as a bee. Indeed, they're so busy that, according to this National Journal article, they're making up their own rules and setting the deadlines under which judges must act in authorizing the release of case information.

N.B. The article names two lawyers in particular.  I have deleted their names because I have not independently fact-checked the piece and, even more important, this blog is about issues  --  like mass clemency to by-pass judicial outcomes deemed not favorable enough to the criminal  --  and not about personalities. 
In my last entry, I introduced Daniel Horowitz's analysis of the origin of the push for mass de-incarceration (called by the intentionally opaque name "sentencing reform"), and where the movement is headed.  I want to continue to explore the ideological anchors of "sentencing reform," and what they tell us about the movement's eventual destination.  (Hint:  Although sentencing reform has attracted some prominent libertarian allies, libertarianism is not its wellspring, nor liberty its goal):

Horowitz notes:

Given Obama's disregard for enforcing laws he dislikes and his aggressive desire to transform the country and dismantle law enforcement, this development [much greater use of clemency than in recent decades] should put goose bumps on anyone concerned with the rule of law, aka, most Americans outside of public policy circles. If Obama is this alacritous to sign a get-out-of-jail free card with 18 months left to his presidency, it's clear that this is the tip of the iceberg. 

This is, in an odd way, a bit unfair to Obama, who has disregarded laws he likes, not just those he doesn't.  He has, for example, repeatedly ignored ACA deadlines when it became clear that enforcing them as written would be politically inapt.

The more troubling question for our purposes, however, is what exactly lies beneath the tip of the sentencing transformation iceberg.

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