Sessions Comments on President's 'Alarming Abuse' of Pardon Power: 'Pandora's Box'


Date: April 23, 2014
Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued the following statement today after the Administration announced an effort to rewrite a sentencing law passed by Congress through the use of the executive pardon:

"The Administration's announcement that the President intends to grant clemency to "perhaps thousands' of convicted federal drug offenders--including those who have limited ties to gangs and cartels--is an alarming abuse of the pardon power. I was one of the principal sponsors who worked on the Fair Sentencing Act, passed after careful consideration. The legislation established new sentencing rules for future violators. Congress debated the issue of retroactivity and explicitly declined to pass it. The President is now implementing through executive action what Congress expressly chose not to pass into law. These are uncharted waters.

While the pardon power has been interpreted broadly, the Framers never intended for it to be used in this manner. 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. 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 law. Can a president pardon all people convicted of financial fraud, or identity theft, or unlawful reentry into the country, or any category of crime when Congress does not act as the executive wishes?

In addition to these serious constitutional concerns, there are serious policy concerns. Federal drug laws are reserved almost exclusively for the most serious drug trafficking and importation crimes. Many of these offenders have caused enormous harm in their own communities. Parents do not want to see more drug dealers on their city streets or near their children's schools. To unilaterally determine that a sentence was unjustified simply because the President disagrees with the underlying criminal justice policy is a thumb in the eye of the law enforcement officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, court and prison personnel who put time and resources into these cases. And it sends the message that the United States government is not serious about combatting drug crimes in the midst of what Attorney General Holder himself called "an urgent and growing public health crisis' with respect to the heroin epidemic gripping this nation. As Professor Matt DeLisi of Iowa State University testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, criminal justice research shows that "releasing 1 percent of the current [federal prison] population would result in approximately 32,850 additional murders, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, thefts, auto thefts, and incidents of arson.'

While there are genuine policy disagreements in this area of the law, the President's latest unilateral action is an abuse of executive power and creates a danger to our constitutional system."