The Injustice Department: Eric Holder’s collaboration with the drug amnesty movement
By Barbara Joanna Lucas, Organization Trends, November 2014 (PDF to come)
Summary: The Justice Department under now-retiring Attorney General Eric Holder has been, as Holder brags, aggressively “activist.” It routinely collaborates with left-wing activist groups on multiple fronts: fighting voter ID laws, preventing enforcement of immigration laws, and covering up scandals like “Fast and Furious” and the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups. One top priority for its George Soros-funded allies: working to grant amnesty to tens of thousands of drug offenders. That fits nicely with the simultaneous push to regain voting rights for felons.
In September, staffers at the Department of Justice (DoJ) gathered at the White House to hear Eric Holder say farewell after serving as President Barack Obama’s attorney general for six years.
“We have held accountable those who would harm the American people, either through violent means or the misuse of economic or political power,” Holder said with Obama standing by his side. “I have loved the Department of Justice ever since I was a young boy. I watched Robert Kennedy prove during the civil rights movement how the department can and must always be a force for that which is right.” (Holder is expected to remain in the post until a successor is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.)
All of this would be news to those who have followed Holder’s tenure at the DoJ. He has been instrumental in covering up voter fraud, stirring up racial antagonism, brushing aside scandals such as Benghazi and the IRS targeting of conservative nonprofits. He has been largely successful in keeping President Obama out of legal trouble, mainly by stonewalling and dissembling.
Nowadays Justice Department spokesmen aren’t known for their honesty. They openly collaborate with the George Soros-funded slander shop Media Matters for America (MMfA). Investigative journalist Matthew Boyle of Breitbart News discovered that Holder’s communications staff collaborated with MMfA in what Boyle described as “an attempt to quell news stories about scandals plaguing Holder and America’s top law enforcement agency.” DoJ and MMfA pooled their resources to undermine journalists covering DoJ scandals, as Boyle discovered when he obtained internal government emails by means of a Freedom of Information Act request.
Holder’s Justice Department bullies and intimidates journalists. Last year Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) accused the DoJ of going after reporters because their coverage was critical of the Obama administration. “We have seen a consistent pattern in this administration, and the pattern is a willingness to use the machinery of government to target those they perceive as their political enemies,” Cruz said. “That was true with the IRS, and it’s true with the Department of Justice, in targeting reporters, targeting Fox News, going after reporters that would dare be critical of this administration.”
At least 20 House members have sponsored a formal impeachment resolution, H.Res. 411. Its four articles of impeachment accuse Holder of wrongdoing in connection with his involvement in the Fast and Furious scandal, refusing to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA), refusing to prosecute IRS officials who leaked confidential GOP donors’ tax information, and providing misleading testimony to Congress about whether he approved heavy-handed investigative tactics against reporters such as James Rosen of Fox News. The DoJ was strongly criticized for subpoenaing telephone records of AP reporters and seizing the private email and telephone records of Rosen.
In mid-2012 Holder was held in criminal contempt of Congress by the House of Representatives in a bipartisan 255-67 vote for refusing to turn over documents related to the Fast and Furious gun-running operation that left hundreds of people dead. It was the first time a U.S. attorney general had ever been held in criminal contempt by the House. Legal proceedings against Holder could be initiated after he leaves office.
Holder hates conservatives and gives voice to some of the hoariest old clichés and left-wing talking points about those who lean to the political right. He told an American Constitution Society gathering in 2004 that “conservatives have been defenders of the status quo, afraid of the future, and content to allow to continue to exist all but the most blatant inequalities.” Conservatives “made a mockery of the rule of law,” and they “put the environment at risk for the sake of unproven economic theories, to play to the fears of our citizens, and not to their hopes, and to return the nation to a time that in fact never existed.”
Conservatives are “breathtaking” in their “arrogance,” Holder pontificated. “From redistricting schemes, to attacks on abortion rights, to energy policies that are as shortsighted as they are ineffective, to tax cuts that disproportionately favor those who are well off and perpetuate many of the inequities in our nation, the conservative movement has been unafraid to push the limits in advancing this agenda.”
Holder calls conservative policies “the conservative agenda of social division, mindless tax cutting, and a defense posture that does not really make us safer.” Not surprisingly, Holder views DoJ as more of what might be termed a Department of Social Justice, which explains why he has worked so hard to enact the agenda of several left-wing nonprofit organizations.
During his tenure, he choreographed crusades to grant constitutional rights to foreign terror suspects, extend voting rights to convicted felons that studies show are inclined to vote Democratic, ignore laws he doesn’t agree with—for example, not defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court—and seeking “fair sentencing” for drug offenders.
Barely a month before announcing his exit, Holder made no bones about what he wanted his legacy to be. “If you want to call me an activist attorney general, I will proudly accept that label,” Holder said. “Any attorney general who is not an activist is not doing his or her job.… I’d say I agree with you 1,000 percent and [I am] proud of it.”
Though well-funded far-left legal groups have had a great deal of clout with this DoJ on an array of policy matters, one especially high priority of these organizations has been to have the department go soft on drug criminals. Narcotics laws are squarely in the Obama administration’s crosshairs, and progressive activists are pushing the Justice Department hard to rewrite the laws unilaterally, regardless of the will of the American people as expressed by their elected lawmakers in Congress.
In a video message earlier this year, Holder talked about the Clemency Project, which is the Obama administration’s initiative aimed at freeing as many as 20,000 drug offenders. “In 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act reducing unfair disparities in sentences imposed on people for offenses involving different forms of cocaine,” Holder said. “But there’s still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime,” he said. “This is simply not right” (Daily Caller, April 21, 2014).
The Fair Sentencing Act changed the quantity of crack cocaine and powder cocaine needed to trigger mandatory minimum sentencing laws. The statute eliminated five-year sentences for crack cocaine and reversed many of the provisions of the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act.
The Obama administration was going to use executive action to make a 2010 law passed by Congress retroactively cover sentences handed down by courts prior to the change in the law. For an administration that’s had jolly fun circumventing the legislative branch, this new initiative gave Obama and Holder a means of doing an extra-constitutional end-run around the federal judiciary.
The administration is receiving help from private groups, both large and small, that are united in a push for the relaxation of narcotics laws. Leading the way in recruiting prisoners to seek early clemency through the president’s mass pardon program are the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU Foundation Inc., 2013 assets $341.1 million; ACLU Inc., 2013 assets $34.7 million), National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (2012 assets $6.8 million), American Bar Association (2013 assets $298.1 million), and Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM Foundation, 2012 assets $1.2 million).
No one who follows the activist Left should be surprised to learn that radical philanthropist George Soros funds some of these advocacy organizations. Soros’s Foundation to Promote Open Society has provided grants to ACLU Foundation ($3,192,000 since 2009) and FAMM Foundation ($1.2 million since 2009). His Open Society Institute (recently renamed Open Society Foundations) has given grants to ACLU Foundation ($24,912,175 since 1999) and FAMM Foundation ($1,771,000 since 1999). The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has received $20,800 from the Soros-funded Tides Foundation.
One group that is no longer sponsoring the Clemency Project is the nation’s Federal Defenders, or court-appointed attorneys for federal cases. A court ruling in August barred public defenders from assisting inmates in filing the petitions. (New York Times, Aug. 19, 2014)
The Obama administration was not pleased. Two days after Holder’s video message, Deputy Attorney General James Cole delivered an address bashing “out of date law,” which he said DoJ and “numerous groups and individual attorneys” were working on in order to free drug offenders.
“In January, I gave a speech to the New York State Bar Association in which I called upon private attorneys to volunteer to assist potential candidates in assembling commutation petitions—ones which provide a focused presentation of the information the Department and the President will consider—in order to meaningfully evaluate whether a petitioner qualifies under this initiative,” Cole said. “Since that time, dedicated and experienced criminal defense and nonprofit lawyers have responded to that call. 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.”
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton criticized the project in his organization’s newsletter:
“And who benefits from releasing 20,000 drug criminals onto the streets? The American people, who must now deal with a potential tidal wave of resulting crime in their neighborhoods? Certainly not,” Fitton wrote. “No, it’s the leftist network supporting this president’s anti-law and order crusade. These radical outside groups, especially through the Justice Department, have been wagging the dog inside the Obama administration from Day One.”
Judicial Watch has sued the Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act for records of communications between the groups and DoJ officials on the Clemency Project. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) announced in a July 28 press release that more than 20,000 prisoners returned surveys seeking pro bono legal help for pardons or commutations under the Clemency Project. The ACLU bragged that the project has more than 1,000 attorneys ready to go and more than 500 in training to take the clemency cases.
Pardoning power is broad
The conservative Heritage Foundation, which aspires to keep the executive branch in check, acknowledges that the “power to pardon is one of the least limited powers granted to the President in the Constitution. The only limits mentioned in the Constitution are that pardons are limited to offenses against the United States (i.e., not civil or state cases), and that they cannot affect an impeachment process.”
That said, presidents typically have been briefed on the circumstances of each individual applicant. This is a break from that tradition. What the Obama administration is preparing to do is provide blanket clemency to a whole class of convicted felons. One media outlet described the move as “an unprecedented use of clemency power” (Reuters, April 23, 2014).
Even President Bill Clinton, who is remembered for his last-minute pardon scandal, issued 176 pardons during his eight years in office. President Lyndon B. Johnson issued 226 pardons, the most of any president in recent decades.
Presidents have been more generous in granting executive clemency regarding wartime activities. President Gerald Ford provided conditional amnesty in 1974 for Vietnam-era draft dodgers and deserters. On his second day in officer, President Jimmy Carter issued a blanket pardon of all Vietnam draft dodgers. On Christmas Day 1868, President Andrew Johnson pardoned Confederates who had fought against the Union.
“Although it’s being done through the pardon power, it really is a kind of administrative action to make some of the newer laws retroactive,” admitted Robert Weisberg, a law professor at Stanford University and co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, in a Reuters interview. “It’s almost as if they have to invent their own kind of shadow sentencing guidelines and in effect re-sentence certain people.”
Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy argues that the pardon power was created to allow the nation’s chief executive to correct miscarriages of justice in individual cases. It wasn’t intended to give the president broad authority “to rewrite the statute unilaterally,” McCarthy wrote on PJ Media on April 21. (McCarthy is author of Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment, published by Encounter Books in June.)
“The time drug offenders spend in jail will be based on his subjective notion of fairness, not the policy embodied in our drug statutes. This is not faithful execution of the law, which is the president’s core constitutional duty.… This is not an exercise in mitigating injustice in individual cases. This is an abuse of political power to rewrite the federal drug laws because, as a matter of ideology, Obama does not agree with stern sentences for drug offenders.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the former ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, argues that the Clemency Project is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they designed a national constitution granting the president pardon authority. “While the pardon power has been interpreted broadly, the Framers never intended for it to be used in this manner,” Sessions says.
“Rather, they intended for it to be used on a limited, case-by-case basis to correct injustice, not to be a tool for the Administration to rewrite or even eliminate laws passed by Congress,” Sessions continued. “We expect a president to exercise his powers with good judgment in accordance with our constitutional traditions and provisions, including the fact that Congress is vested with the power to establish sentencing laws. If this latest unilateral action becomes the norm, then what kind of Pandora’s box has the president opened? Can a president pardon all people convicted of financial fraud, or identify theft or unlawful re-entry into the country, or any category of crime when Congress does not act as the executive wishes?” (Breitbart, April 23, 2014).
‘Plenty of wiggle room’
Judicial Watch and Families Against Mandatory Minimums—two groups on opposite sides of the issue—both predict that the number of pardons and commutations will exceed 20,000. However, Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University and editor of the blog Sentencing Law and Policy, predicts 5,000 or more prisoners will be released (American Prospect, April 25, 2014). A 2013 calculation by Paul Hofer, analyst with Federal Public and Community Defenders, says the number serving more than 10 years for drug crimes—thus eligible for the clemency under the program—would number in the thousands (Reason, April 23, 2014).
For inmates to be considered by the legal groups, they must meet six criteria: (1) they would have received a lighter sentence 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 have demonstrated good conduct in prison; (5) they don’t have a significant criminal history, and (6) no history of violence prior to the offense. If the convicts meet these criteria, the legal groups will review their petitions for clemency and pass them on to the administration.
Those pardon standards might seem reasonable on their face, but as a left-wing magazine gleefully pointed out, “The administration’s clemency criteria have plenty of wiggle room, which makes the selection of a new pardon attorney all the more significant.”
That’s apparently what the Holder Justice Department thought; it sent a clear message there would be no dissent when the pro-law enforcement DoJ Pardon Attorney Ron Rodgers abruptly resigned.
The new pardon attorney, Deborah Leff, previously worked for the DoJ’s Access to Justice Initiative, a program created to help low-income defendants get a fair court hearing. “Poor people often do not have access to counsel, and when they do get an attorney, that lawyer is often overworked, undertrained, undercompensated, and placed in a system that encourages a quick plea bargain and discourages carefully listening to the needs of clients,” Leff wrote in an article with Melanca Clark for the American Bar Association (American Prospect, April 25, 2014).
Most of the attention is presumably given to drug offenders, but the project is broader than that, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The question and answer section of the document explaining pardon eligibility says it applies to “career offenders” and for “economic crimes.” And interestingly, “The clemency initiative is not limited to legal residents or U.S. citizens.”
Lockstep with the far-left nonprofit cabal
Eric Holder arrived at DoJ knowing something about clemency. During the Clinton administration, he was deputy attorney general under Janet Reno, and the Washington Post called him the administration’s “gatekeeper” on clemency. Most notoriously, Holder engineered the controversial eleventh-hour pardons of the friends of Bill, including the fugitive financier Marc Rich.
After Clinton’s presidency ended, Holder went into private practice and was a staunch advocate for the rights of Islamist terrorists when he worked for the white shoe law firm of Covington and Burling. When he returned to the Justice Department as attorney general, he advocated for civilian trials of terrorists, in line with the agenda of the ACLU, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and other groups in the legal Left.
He has also pushed the racial agendas of these legal groups. Four months before the controversial police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, Holder was calling for a nationwide study on race and arrests. The study was said to be needed to determine if there is racial bias by local police in stops and searches.
“This overrepresentation of young men of color in our criminal justice system is a problem we must confront—not only as an issue of individual responsibility but also as one of fundamental fairness, and as an issue of effective law enforcement,” Holder said. “Racial disparities contribute to tension in our nation generally and within communities of color specifically, and tend to breed resentment towards law enforcement that is counterproductive to the goal of reducing crime” (Daily Caller, April 28, 2014).
“We will conduct this research while simultaneously implementing strategies in five initial pilot sites with the goal of reducing the role of bias and building confidence in the justice system among young people of color,” Holder continued. “This work will likely include anti-gang and mentoring projects intended to empower young African-American and Latino males and break the vicious cycle of poverty, incarceration, and crime that destroys too many promising futures each and every day.”
Holder takes these matters personally. Dispatched to Ferguson, Mo., by President Obama, Holder told demonstrators incensed by the shooting of Michael Brown that he understood their distrust of law enforcement personnel.
“I am the attorney general of the United States,” Holder said. “But I am also a black man. I can remember being stopped on the New Jersey turnpike on two occasions and accused of speeding. Pulled over … ‘Let me search your car’ … Go through the trunk of my car, look under the seats and all this kind of stuff. I remember how humiliating this was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me.”
At the DoJ Holder placed heavy emphasis on the Civil Rights Division to carry out the work of social transformation. The division devoted vast resources to suing states over the constitutionality of voter ID laws such as Indiana’s that had already met with U.S. Supreme Court approval in the landmark 2008 case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board.
PJ Media sued the DoJ in federal court under the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to the backgrounds of the attorneys in the civil rights division and found that every one of them were left-wing activist Democrats (PJ Media, Aug. 8, 2011).
This past February, Holder launched an effort to restore voting rights for felons. “At worst, these laws, with their disparate impact on minority communities, echo policies enacted during a deeply troubled period in America’s past—a time of post-Civil War repression,” Holder said. “They have their roots in centuries-old conceptions of justice that were too often based on exclusion, animus and fear.”
Note that Holder justified giving felons voting rights by using the term “disparate impact,” which is a concept entirely at odds with the enduring understanding of personal responsibility upon which the rule of law itself is based. Under this specious doctrine, if a policy has a “disparate impact” on any subgroup of the population, the policy must be based on improper discrimination and thus should be overturned. In practice, the concept is applied only to politically favored subgroups. When reverse discrimination in college admissions, for example, disparately harms Asians, Holder and the Left don’t care. Nor do they argue that the highly disparate impact that laws against, say, murder, have on men versus women mean that those laws must be overturned. Instead, the Holder Justice Department has invoked the idea selectively to push an agenda that its friends in far-left pressure groups have long advocated.
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
The NACDL was founded in 1958. Today it has about 10,000 direct members in 28 countries and 90 state and local affiliates around the United States. Counting direct and associated members, the organization reaches about 40,000 attorneys, stretching from high-dollar criminal defense attorneys to public defenders to military defense attorneys, according to the group’s website.
NACDL issued a statement in 2007 opposed to lengthy sentences:
“The past decade’s much-heralded ‘War on Drugs’ and crackdown on crime has become a war on ourselves. It has run roughshod over these and other essential rights that citizens across the nation hold dear. Equally important, a rational and humane crime policy must focus on the social and economic benefits of crime prevention—through education, economic opportunity, and rehabilitation of former offenders,” the 2007 statement said. “As a society, we need to eschew such simplistic, expensive, and ineffective ‘solutions’ as inflexible mandatory sentencing, undue restriction of meritorious appeals, punishment of children as adults, and the erosion of the constitutional rights of all Americans because of the transgressions of a few” (Discover the Networks).
The organization had been a lousy ally to the United States in the war on terrorism, but a suitable ally for Holder’s agenda. In 2003, it cast a unanimous vote against ever defending terrorism suspects in a military tribunal, but the refusal was not for the reason you may think. They didn’t have any ethical concerns about defending terrorists that seek to kill or have killed Americans. Rather, their concern was that the terrorism suspects could not receive a fair trial. This fits perfectly with Holder’s push for civilian trials for terrorists inside the United States.
“Criminal defense lawyers are severely disadvantaged in their duties to represent their clients” in military tribunals, the NACDL Ethics Advisory Committee said in an opinion issued August 2, 2003. “The loss of rights can only help insure unjust and unreliable convictions.”
The NACDL filed friend of the court briefs on behalf of the radical attorney Lynne Stewart, who was convicted in 2005 for illegally helping her client, Omar Abdel-Rahman, convey orders to his murderous terrorist group in Egypt. Abdel-Rahman is in federal prison for orchestrating the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. He is the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda and other militant Islamist groups. The communiqué that was passed on was “the blessing of a return to violence from a terrorist leader,” prosecutor Anthony Barkow said at Stewart’s trial.
Stewart has praised Muslim extremists as “forces of national liberation.” She thinks left-wing Americans, “as persons who are committed to the liberation of oppressed people, should fasten on the need for self-determination, and allow people … to do what they need to do to throw off that oppression.” A Maoist, Stewart has said she supports “violence directed at the institutions which perpetuate capitalism, racism and sexism, and at the people who are the appointed guardians of those institutions.”
The NACDL gives out its “Champion of Justice” award each year to predictable left-wingers. Recipients include Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.); former MASH star Mike Farrell; former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.); former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert; Center for Constitutional Rights co-founder Arthur Kinoy; Holder’s old boss, former Attorney General Janet Reno; and former Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.).
In 1995 the NACDL gave its Lifetime Achievement Award to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Attorney General Ramsey Clark, the founder of the International Action Center. About a dozen years after this award, Clark acted as Saddam Hussein’s lawyer in Iraq.
The organization is also on board with Holder, or he is on board with them, on voting rights for felons. But that policy is advocated even more strongly by the legal group that has probably done more harm to America over the past century than any other organization.
ACLU and other groups
The ACLU, which claims to defend the Constitution, is silent on Obama’s numerous and outrageous examples of executive overreach and floutings of the rule of law. The group supports the Clemency Project and assists Holder’s Justice Department agenda on other fronts.
The organization, founded in 1920 by socialist Roger Baldwin, has supplemented the DoJ Civil Rights Division actions with its own lawsuits against voter ID laws and against the enforcement of immigration laws. It has also backed the DoJ in pushing for expanded constitutional rights for terrorists.
The organization is a powerful ally, taking up more than 6,000 cases a year with offices in 50 states, 200 staff attorneys, and 500,000 members.
In the ACLU’s view, the Clemency Project fits into the group’s desire to defend targets of discrimination; Holder and Cole have discussed the disparate impact of sentences.
“The legal system that was long used as a sword and a shield against bigotry is now being inverted to promote and enshrine intolerance,” proclaims the ACLU on its website. “We’ve seen this trend across a number of civil liberties issues including: attacks on marriage fairness for LGBT couples; efforts to deny women insurance for abortion care.”
The ACLU adds that there is a national “effort by state legislatures to restrict access to the ballot box; anti-immigrant laws that codify racial profiling by targeting Latinos and other people of color; and discriminatory disciplinary practices that push kids of color out of school and into the criminal justice system.”
The Clemency Project’s underlying assumption is the notion that all tough sentences are inherently unfair.
“It is un-American to stand idly by and tolerate our government locking up so many people, treating racial and ethnic minorities unfairly and squandering public resources,” the ACLU says.
The ACLU has a well-earned reputation as a bullying organization. Its heavy-handed approach was evident in its subpoena of various private citizens and private groups as part of the suit against Arizona’s immigration enforcement law, SB 1070. The Holder Justice Department tried to have the law ruled unconstitutional.
The ACLU teamed with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) to challenge the law, but the Supreme Court upheld most of the law. The two groups have subpoenaed “all communications” from the targeted organizations and individuals related to SB 1070 or immigrants and immigration, including emails and computer files looking for words such as “aliens,” “illegal aliens,” “illegals,” “Mexican,” “Latino,” “invasion,” “beaner,” “spic” and “wetback.” It’s likely the ACLU knows several of these terms won’t be found, but hopes to smear their opponents as racists by putting an implicit allegation on the record.
“The ACLU knows full well it cannot win in the courts with such tactics. But this is not about winning in the courts,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton wrote. “This is about winning a political ground war with ugly and false insinuations of racism. In a move of breathtaking hypocrisy, the ACLU is seeking to chill the First Amendment speech, association and assembly rights of Americans who played by the rules and worked to support a law they believed was in the best interests of the country” (Washington Times, April 9, 2014).
The Supreme Court upheld SB 1070’s main provision that police can check the immigration status of an individual if there is “reasonable suspicion” that person may be an illegal immigrant.
“The ACLU objects to that decision,” Fitton added. “It is trying to take another shot at the high court’s ruling with a lawsuit claiming that SB 1070 was the product of ‘racial animus’ and ‘invites racial profiling.’ So it has embarked on a witch hunt for racial profilers.”
The ACLU has always been a politically charged group, and we expect the worst from them. But many people think better of the legal group that supposedly represents the interests of all attorneys.
The American Bar Association, founded in 1878, now has 300,000 attorneys as members. The organization portrays itself as above the fray of politics, but in reality it is deeply left-wing.
A 2009 study by the Midwest Political Science Association found “nominations submitted by a Democratic president were significantly more likely to receive higher ABA ratings than nominations submitted by a Republican president.” The study further explained: “The most liberal nominees had a 62.3% chance of receiving a ‘well-qualified’ rating from the ABA, as opposed to only a 35.5% likelihood for the most conservative nominees.” The study also found “nominees in the Clinton Administration were 14% more likely to get the ABA’s highest rating than the nominees of Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush” (National Review, Aug. 9, 2012).
The group Families Against Mandatory Minimums may be one that would seem to have the purest motive involved in the Clemency Project, and certainly the one with the cleanest record.
The public outrage over liberal judges imposing lenient sentences for heinous crimes led to various mandatory minimum sentencing laws passed by Congress and state legislatures. But, with the growing libertarian tide among conservatives, there are frequent questions about whether this solution has become another one-size-fits-all order from the federal government.
FAMM was founded by Julie Stewart, who in 1990 was the public affairs director for the libertarian Cato Institute. Her brother pleaded guilty to marijuana possession in Washington State and was sentenced to five years in prison. It was a first offense in a state that has since legalized marijuana.
Because of her brother’s case, Stewart founded FAMM in 1991. The organization now has 70,000 members and claims more than 200,000 people have benefited from sentencing reforms advocated by FAMM. This includes 85,700 federal prisoners receiving sentences below the mandatory minimum because of the drug safety valve program passed by Congress in 1994 and advocated by FAMM. The organization also takes credit for pushing laws through the state legislatures of Michigan and New Jersey that reduced the sentences of more than 10,000 inmates for both states combined.
The Congressional Black Caucus presented FAMM with a Certificate of Achievement for reforming federal crack cocaine laws in 2011; the Gleitsman Foundation gave the group its Citizen Activist Award in 2006; the far-left Ford Foundation gave the group its Leadership for a Changing World Award in 2002; and the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys presented the organization with a Champion of Justice Award in 2001.
Organizations on either side of the political spectrum have the constitutional right to petition and lobby their government. It becomes questionable, however, when such organizations start to steer how decisions are made. Imagine the handwringing if a Republican administration included the National Rifle Association or the Family Research Council in its Justice Department policy-making processes.
On the other hand, conservatives have one reason to be thankful for the Clemency Project. It has pulled back the curtain on who has really been running the Justice Department for the last six years.
Barbara Joanna Lucas is a freelance writer in Virginia and blogs at The Sharp Bite (TheSharpBite.blogspot.com)