In January, the Obama Justice Department joined forces with several liberal legal groups to announce the Clemency Project 2014 to promote pro bono legal work for convicted criminals. Three months later, the administration announced what could be tantamount to mass clemency for about 20,000 convicted felons – mostly drug offenders.
Judicial Watch, a conservative government watchdog group, announced Wednesday it is suing to get the communications between the Justice Department and the liberal legal groups to determine the role they played in the administration’s clemency policy. The lawsuit is under the the Freedom of Information Act. Judicial Watch requested the documents in March and the department did not comply.
The liberal attorney groups that established the Clemency Project 2014 are Federal Defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Bar Association (ABA), and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
On April 23, Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced plans for expediting clemency for certain prisoners serving sentences longer than the ones currently imposed for similar offenses. Cole called these “out-of-date laws” and said sentences would be “commuted, or reduced, by the president of the United State.”
“These numerous groups and individual attorneys, who are calling themselves Clemency Project 2014, will be working with inmates who appear to meet the six criteria and request the assistance of a lawyer,” Cole said.
The DOJ’s six criterira were 1) they would have received a lighter setence if they committed the same crime today; 2) it was a non-violent offense; 3) they have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence; 4) they demonstrated good conduct in prison; 5) they don’t have a significant criminal history and 6) no history of violence prior to the offense.
The laws became “outdated” based on the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which relaxed the drug sentenced adopted in the 1980s to combat the crack cocaine problem.
Judicial Watch contends the Fair Sentencing Act is not retroactive, and the administration shouldn’t apply to past convictions.
“This is clearly yet another case of the president abusing his authority,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said Wednesday. “This is an example of the imperial presidency at its worst, and the American people have a right to know who is behind his arrant usurpation of power. And his Department of Justice’s outsourcing of its work to left-wing interest groups is yet another abuse that undermines accountability. So it is no surprise that the Department of Justice is now violating our nation’s primary open records law and refusing to divulge basic information about this controversial program.”
After the administration made the clemency announcement DOJ Pardon Attorney Ron Rodgers, who reportedly is skeptical of clemency requests, resigned. He was replaced by Deborah Leff, who is reportedly has a background favoring commutations.
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