A group of 15 law professors asked the Senate Judiciary Committee in a letter on Tuesday to review allegations of misconduct by the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney.
The academics asked committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to examine the decisions of Pardon Attorney Ronald Rodgers, who allegedly withheld “critical” information from President Barack Obama and has a history of “troubling racial disparities in the pattern of grants and denials of clemency,” according to the letter.
The Constitution allots the clemency power to the President. The president can grant clemency — forgiveness or cancellation of crimes — to federal offenders. The OPA assists the president in exercising his this power.
A joint investigation by the Washington Post and ProPublica revealed “disturbing new information” about the OPA, the lawyers write. The ProPublica investigation alleges that Rodgers changed the review process for clemency requests between 2008 and 2010: Paralegals reviewed applications instead of staff attorneys. And in the past four years, 7,000 prisoners have been rejected for clemency, 22 times as many rejected during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, according to the report.
In addition, white inmates are four times more likely than minorities to receive pardons, according to a separate ProPublica story published in December.
“Virtually the only governmental check on the pardon power of the president is the ability of the Congress to investigate its use,” the letter reads. “While Congress properly plays no role in the actual consideration of clemency petitions, there is a duty of oversight relating to the operation of this office.”
Academics from Harvard Law School, University of Notre Dame, Stanford Law School, American University Washington College of Law, George Washington University Law School and New York University School of Law, among others, all signed the letter.
Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the “national voice for fair and appropriate sentencing laws,” offered its support for the letter. FAMM called on the committee to investigate the office and Rodgers in May.
“These legal experts see exactly what we see: a pardon attorney’s office that is failing to provide the president with the unbiased information he needs to fulfill his constitutional clemency power fully and fairly,” Julie Stewart, FAMM president, said in a news release. “Congress — and all taxpayers — should demand answers from OPA before continuing to subsidize this incompetent, if not corrupt, office.”