The Collateral Consequences Resource Center is pleased to announce a series of online panels on successive Tuesdays in September, starting on September 14, that will explore in depth the use of the pardon power by President Donald Trump, and how it both reflects recent trends in pardoning and is likely to influence pardoning in the future.
The first panel, on September 14, will discuss Trump’s abandonment of the bureaucratic tradition in pardoning and what this reveals both about his concept of office and about the nature of the constitutional power. The second panel, on September 21, will consider whether Trump’s pardons may prompt much-needed reforms in sentencing law and practice. The third panel, on September 28, will consider possible changes in how the pardon power is administered resulting from its idiosyncratic use by President Trump, and whether the Justice Department should remain responsible for advising the president in pardon matters.
In their Washington Post op ed on the President’s neglect of his pardon power posted earlier on this site, Rachel Barkow and Mark Osler are critical of the Justice Department’s bureaucratic process for processing applications for executive clemency, which they argue takes a very long time and yields very little. (The New York Times editorialized last year in a similar vein about how DOJ has effectively sidelined the president’s power as a tool for justice for more than 20 years.) Barkow and Osler ask why Justice considered it necessary or wise to farm out the processing of thousands of petitions from federal prisoners to a private consortium called Clemency Project 2014, rather than reform the official process: “such a short-term program does nothing to fix the problematic regular clemency process that will survive this administration unless action is taken.”
Barkow and Osler focus on sentence commutations, and not on the other common type of clemency grant: a full pardon, typically sought by those who have fully served their court-imposed sentences, to avoid or mitigate collateral consequences. In addition to the thousands of prisoner petitions awaiting consideration by DOJ’s Pardon Attorney, there are now more than 800 petitions for full pardon pending in the Justice Department. Most of these petitions were filed by individuals who completed their court-imposed sentences long ago but remain burdened by legal restrictions and social stigma. A majority of the pending petitions were filed years ago and have long since been fully investigated. What can be holding things up?