Clemency Power May Be Wielded More Often by Obama, Holder Suggests

Post Date: April 8, 2014

(CQ Roll Call) — President Barack Obama has used his clemency power more rarely than almost any other modern chief executive, but that could change soon, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.suggested Tuesday.

Holder, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, said the Justice Department is working on multiple fronts to identify more federal prisoners who might be good candidates for a presidential reprieve.

Holder said the department is seeking funding in its fiscal 2015 budget request to hire seven more staff members, including four lawyers, at the Office of the Pardon Attorney, the DOJ component that evaluates and reviews prisoners’ requests for clemency before they go to the president for a decision. Holder said the money is necessary “so that we can process these matters at a greater rate.”

More broadly, Holder said, the administration sees clemency as another method through which it can stem a costly rise in the federal prison population. Holder has already implemented a new nationwide charging policy that de-emphasizes the prosecution of low-level drug offenders, and the administration has thrown its weight behind Senate legislation (S 1410) that would cut mandatory minimum sentences for some drug criminals by as much as 60 percent.

“We think that the clemency process has to be part of this overall look at our criminal justice system,” Holder said. “The president agrees with this.”

Holder’s testimony is not the first hint that Obama could act on more clemency petitions in his final years in office.

Of the more than 10,000 commutation requests Obama has received up to now in his tenure, he has granted just nine, according to the Office of the Pardon Attorney. Of more than 1,600 pardon requests — which, unlike commutations, only apply to those who have already been released from prison — Obama has granted 52. Read more