In April of this year, the Obama administration announced it would “reformulate” clemency guidelines for federal prison offenders. As the Washington Post described it, “Justice Department Prepares for Clemency Requests from Thousands of Inmates.” The paper claimed that this “unprecedented campaign to free nonviolent offenders” would continue for two years and that DOJ would “reassign dozens of lawyers to its understaffed pardons office to handle the requests from inmates.”
Particularly affected would be drug offenders, characterized as unjustly imprisoned through the “failed drug war” and by harsh mandatory sentences. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the crack/powder sentencing disparity to 18 to 1, rather than the previous 100 to 1 ratio.
According to the Washington Post, to be eligible for clemency, the offenders must be: “low-level, nonviolent and without a significant criminal history … must have served at least 10 years of their sentence and … demonstrated good conduct in prison, with no history of violence before or during their incarceration.”
In Slate, Emily Bazelon celebrated the prospects for a “mass clemency” from the President, perhaps affecting “hundreds or even a few thousand drug offenders.”
Bazelon also emphasized the issue of race as a rationale, arguing that “white applicants were four times as likely as black ones to win pardons . . . one more racial disparity in a criminal justice system that is rife with it.”
It appears that not all parties at the Department of Justice were supportive of the development. At least, that is an inference from the departure of the then United States pardon attorney, Ronald Rogers on April 22, 2014, simultaneous with the clemency announcement. Rogers left following what many termed “sharp criticism.”
Despite statements that many thousands might be affected by the initiative, the actual number of prisoners cited by the press and the administration remained oddly vague—this in a federal system with detailed data collection and sentencing guidelines. The Washington Postclaimed “the new clemency guidelines apply to thousands of prisoners, perhaps tens of thousands.” Specifically, the Post notes, “There are at least 300,000 prisoners serving state and federal sentences for various drug crimes, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.” The so-called Clemency Project 2014 does not affect state-level drug prisoners, however, so it’s not clear why they were included in this count.
In April, CNN reported that of “more than 200,000 inmates in the federal prison system . . . the new clemency criteria could apply to about 2,000 prisoners. But the number is likely to fall to perhaps hundreds after government lawyers review the applications.”
The Justice Department's Bureau of Prisons (BOP) recently committed $830,160 to purchase Protective Stab Vests for use by employees in federal prison facilities. The contract was awarded on a sole-source, no-bid basis because the need was determined to be of an "urgent and compelling nature." Documents accompanying the posting say that "thousands of vests ... are now considered to be End- of-Life" and need replacing, and vests are needed for new employees as well.
During his confirmation hearing in early 2009, Eric Holder declared he would not politicize the Justice Department. Yet throughout more than five years in office, the attorney general has done just that—without objection from President Obama, who obviously paid no heed to Holder’s promise. Indeed, it is manifestly clear that Holder and Obama approach law the same way: Where necessary, it may be manipulated—or ignored—in pursuit of political ends.
The head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration was called in to speak with Attorney General Eric Holder and told to get in line with the Obama administration's policy on lessening sentencing for drug offenders, according to a report from the Huffington Post.
In a speech the other day to state attorneys general, the U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder, offered an ideal job description for himself and his state counterparts: “not merely to use our legal system to settle disputes and punish those who have done wrong, but to answer the kinds of fundamental questions—about fairness and equality—that have always determined who we are and who we aspire to be.” This is what “all justice professionals are called” to do, said Holder, leaving us to wonder what we the mere people are supposed to do.
Last month the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The vote broke along party lines, 10-to-8. Over the weekend Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania became the first Democrat to oppose Adegbile. “I will not vote to confirm the nominee,” he said. A cloture vote scheduled for Monday has (because of the snowstorm) been postponed to Wednesday. With Casey’s announcement, Adegbile can no longer be assured that Democratic senators will uniformly support him. Indeed, the question now is whether other Democrats will follow Casey’s lead. It would take six Democrats including Casey to vote against and defeat the nomination.
Another reporter is joining the Obama administration. Emily Pierce, the deputy editor of Roll Call, will be joining the office of public affairs at the Department of Justice, the federal agency headed by Attorney General Eric Holder.
Pierce was welcomed to her new position by Brian Fallon, who works in that DOJ office and who used to be Chuck Schumer's spokesman in the Senate.
"Can't wait to welcome @emilyprollcall to @TheJusticeDept Office of Public Affairs later this month. She is a true pro," Fallon said on Twitter.
In November, the Obama Justice Department dropped a lawsuit aimed at stopping a school voucher program in Louisiana. The Louisiana Scholarship Program is intended to give students in failing public schools a chance to attend better schools, including private ones. Justice tried to block the program on the basis that it may have violated a 1975 federal desegregation order.
Bobby Jindal is outraged over a Department of Justice lawsuit against a Louisiana school voucher program. The suit, which he (repeatedly) calls “cynical, immoral, and hypocritical” and the “worst misuse” of federal desegregation laws, aims to stop a program that allows poor students in failing schools to enter a lottery for a voucher to attend a better school.
Valerie Jarrett, a close adviser to President Obama, said that Eric Holder is "definitely" not stepping down and that he'll be attorney general "for quite a while."
"One of the things that you learn in this business is, don't listen to rumors. You can take it from me. Obviously, I know the president pretty well. And I know the attorney general very well. and he will be in his position for quite a while."