"[A]fter an extremely slow start using his clemency powers, the president has issued criteria for jailed nonviolent drug offenders to be eligible. More than 18,000 prisoners have applied, but the Republican-led House of Representatives passed an amendment in May preventing the use of federal funds for screening applications."
Matt Welch (via letterstomycountry)
A response to the quote above from laliberty:
The blue #politics tag caught my eye here before I read the actual quote. I thought “what could reason’s Matt Welch have said to make it through the partisan censors at the #politics tag?”. Then I read it and realized it was all about showing Obama as some good guy and Republicans as obstructionists… and it all made perfect sense.
Let’s not forget that, as noted in the Welch piece linked to above (in fact, earlier in the very paragraph this quote was strategically extracted from), (1) “Obama’s Justice Department raided more medical marijuana dispensaries than Bush’s ever dreamed of, while the president himself literally laughed out loud at the prospect of legalization for recreational use,” (2) the president has the power to pardon criminals and, as one presidential candidate once promised, pardoning non-violent drug offenders is something that can be done from the oval office, and (3) even if he didn’t have such power, Obama has repeatedly shown his willingness to circumvent Congress whenever it suits him and has flaunted such willingness repeatedly (he’s “got a pen,” remember?). That republicans have blocked funds is ultimately a tiny road block, since (as I understand it) there is nothing stopping the administration from redirecting DOJ resources and directives away from those many aforementioned drug raids, away from further federally prosecuting drug offenders, and toward screening applications - or, instead, doing their own due process. Indeed, that Holder and the ACLU have asked for applications is an extra step that only serves to push accountability away from the president - after all, what is the DOJ for? Furthermore, as president, that makes him de facto head of his party. For years, his party had control of both houses while he was in office. Indeed, it was under these circumstances that Obamacare was able to be crammed through the Senate without a single Republican vote. Since presidential clemency ultimately does nothing to change unjust drug laws or set president, that would have been the opportune time to make real changes to laws that punish the peaceful consumption of plants by consenting adults. Then again, they wouldn’t have been able to blame Republicans if it didn’t pass.
Forgive me if I’m not so eager to declare Obama as some righteous drug war liberator.
LTMC: I think your suspicions about the intention behind this “strategically extracted” quote are a bit misplaced.
First, some of your skepticism appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the clemency process. The process for securing a pardon begins with a Petition for Clemency, Commutation, or Pardon, which is submitted to the DOJ. It’s not an “extra step” to push accountability away from the President. It’s a step that has always been a part of the process.
Second, it’s true that the White House can unilaterally redirect funding from different Agencies to give affect to its enforcement priorities. However, this power is subordinate to Congress’s power to place express restrictions of funding to Executive Agencies. Congress’s ability to limit the use of federal funds by other branches is “the main historic tool by which Congress can limit executive power.” Congress can tell the President how an Executive Agency must spend its money, or whether it can spend money at all. So the amendment that was passed in the House is not merely a small roadblock. The amendment banned the use of federal funds to expand the number of staff attorneys at the Office of the Pardon Attorney so they could process more clemency applications in a shorter amount of time. This has the direct effect of causing prisoners who are eligible under the new clemency guidelines to rot in jail for longer periods of time than they would otherwise have to. So yes, the Republicans deserve to be criticized for this. If Obama looks better by comparison on this particular issue, it’s because he made a good drug policy decision for a change.
Third, regarding editing of this quote: I pulled this quote from Matt Welch’s piece because it was a point of information that I thought was relevant for anyone concerned with drug policy. I edited the quote because the other information in that paragraph wasn’t relevant to the issue of Executive Clemency. To be honest, I also don’t know how anyone could look at this quote and think it was clipped to make Obama look good. The quote begins with: "after an extremely slow start using his clemency powers[.]" That’s not a flattering lead. If I was trying to make Obama look like a "righteous drug war liberator," I would have clipped that opening sentence, so there wasn’t even a suggestion of failure on Obama’s part.
I have no interest in making Obama look good. I’ve criticized his administration countless times—including for the previous conspicuous absence of Drug War pardons, and his position on Drug Prohibition generally. I’ve taken heat from the liberal side of Tumblr on numerous occasions for stuff I’ve written about the guy—including when I suggested that Ron Paul was a better Presidential candidate on numerous issues that most self-identifying liberals claim to care about. Perhaps the editor who selected this quote promoted it because they thought it made Obama look good in comparison to the GOP-led House. But that’s certainly not the primary reason I pulled the quote from Welch’s article.