Revitalizing the Clemency Process

84 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2016  

Paul J. Larkin Jr.

The Heritage Foundation

Date Written: November 1, 2016

Abstract

St. Anselm once asked how a perfectly just God could also be merciful, since perfect justice and almighty grace could not seemingly coexist. Fortunately, the criminal justice system does not need to answer that question, one that has proven inscrutable for theologians and philosophers, because its assumptions do not apply to our system. An earthly judicial system will never be able to administer justice perfectly and cannot disburse mercy even approaching the quality of the divine. But the clemency power can try to achieve as much of an accommodation between those two goals as any human institution can. Unfortunately, however, our recent span of presidents, attuned more to political than humanitarian considerations and fearing the electoral wrath of the voters for mistaken judgments, have largely abandoned their ability to grant clemency in order to husband their political capital for pedestrian undertakings. Far worse, others have succumbed to the dark side of “the Force,” have used their power shamefully, and have left a stain on clemency that we have yet to remove.

We now have reached a point where that taint can be eliminated. There is a consensus that the clemency process can and should be reformed. The problem lies not in the power itself, but in the process by which cases are brought to the President for his review and maybe in the people we have elected to make those decisions. The Office of the Pardon Attorney should be transferred from the Department of Justice to the Executive Office of the President, and the President should select someone to fill that position. That revision to the clemency process should help us see a return of the necessary role that clemency can play in a system that strives to be both just and merciful.

Suggested Citation

Larkin, Paul J., Revitalizing the Clemency Process (November 1, 2016). 39 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 833 (2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2862705 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2862705

Paul James Larkin Jr. (Contact Author)

The Heritage Foundation ( email )

214 Massachusetts Ave NE
Washington, DC 20002-4999
United States
202-608-6190 (Phone)

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