APRIL 24, 2014
As President Obama prepares to use his executive power to release thousands of felons (serving time under “racist” drug sentences) the Justice Department’s top official in charge of pardons quits rather than let criminals out of jail.
At least someone at the agency charged with enforcing the law and providing federal leadership in controlling crime, has some scruples. Of course, the official statement on the abrupt resignation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Pardon Attorney, Ron Rodgers, is that he suddenly requested reassignment after heading the division for six years. One newswire story quotes a DOJ Deputy Attorney General saying that Rodgers’ departure is “in the tradition” of senior executive service attorneys who ask for reassignment.
The facts tell a different story. As head of the DOJ’s Pardons Office Rodgers clashed with the Obama administration over a controversial plan to release—or reduce the sentences of—convicted drug offenders. It’s part of the president’s effort to end racial discrimination in drug-related sentences. It started with the 2010 signing of a law (Fair Sentencing Act) that for the first time in decades relaxed drug-crime sentences he claims discriminate against minority offenders. The measure severely weakens a decades-old law enacted during the infamous crack cocaine epidemic that ravaged urban communities nationwide in the 1980s.
But the Fair Sentencing Act is not retroactive so the president launched a broad plan this month to help those sentenced under the older, stricter law which required mandatory prison for first-time offenders and a five-year sentence for trafficking offenses involving more than five grams of crack cocaine. This punished a disproportionate number of blacks, the administration says, compared to more affluent whites and Hispanics that enjoy lighter sentences for possessing the more expensive powder cocaine that most blacks can’t afford.
So this week Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new DOJ clemency initiative that’s expected to free thousands of prisoners serving time for crimes related to crack cocaine. The agency expects to get bombarded with petitions, Holder said in a video posted on the DOJ website, and will assign dozens of new attorneys to its pardon office, which is now headed by an Obama team player named Deborah Leff. The clemencies will “restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality,” Holder said, adding that the DOJ is “committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.”
More than 20,000 inmates “sentenced under the old regime” will likely qualify for clemency, according to Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who held a press conference this week to announce the initiative. “For our criminal justice system to be effective, it needs to not only be fair; but it also must be perceived as being fair,” Cole said. “Older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today’s laws erode people’s confidence in our criminal justice system, and I am confident that this initiative will go far to promote the most fundamental of American ideals – equal justice under law.”
With that said, here’s an interesting tidbit related to this story. One of the federal lawmakers (California Congresswoman Maxine Waters) that for years pushed to reduce drug sentences over racial disparities accused the CIA of selling crack cocaine to blacks in her south central Los Angeles district to raise money to support clandestine operations in Latin America, including a guerrilla army. Waters and her buddy, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, were driving forces behind the Fair Sentencing Act and are undoubtedly celebrating the new clemency criteria.
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