Clemency: Obama Once Again Abusing Executive Power
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama bestowed the gift of freedom on 111 federal prisoners, drawing praise from Democrats and even some conservatives who believe that the over-criminalization of drugs has led to racial injustice in the prison system. With the announcement, the Obama administration broke its own record, bringing their total number of commutations to 673, far more than any previous president.
“I thought it was very important for us to send a clear message that we believe in the principles behind criminal justice reform,” Obama said earlier in the month.
Whether or not you buy into the theory of over-criminalization is beside the point. This is just like what Obama tried to do with DAPA and DACA. Even if you think that every single illegal immigrant in America should be made a citizen tomorrow, it doesn’t change the fact that the law is the law. Nowhere in the Constitution is it written: The president must uphold and faithfully execute the laws of the United States, except those laws that the president doesn’t like. Those, he may disregard at will.
Now, the president does have a certain amount of administrative power. The founders recognized that the federal government does not (and should not) have unlimited resources at its disposal. Therefore, some things have to take priority over others. Also, the founders set up a system where bills would be turned into laws through a methodical, slow, partisan process. Therefore, if practicalities require the president to “clarify” a law through executive action, he can do so without going all the way back through the congressional wringer.
And yes, the president does have the power to unilaterally grant clemency to any federal prisoner.
But while Obama’s commutations would survive a legal challenge (unlike his amnesty), his motives are twisted and obscene.
Let’s lay it out on the table: Plenty of presidents – Republicans and Democrats – have used the power of the pardon to bust their friends out of the slammer. We all get it. It ain’t pretty, but it’s life.
This isn’t about that. This is about a president who sees his executive authority as a way to nullify any laws that he personally sees as unjust. That’s an abuse of power. That is not up to the president to decide.
If Congress passes criminal justice reform that matches Obama’s worldview, so be it. You can agree with it or disagree with it, but you can’t argue its constitutionality. No matter how idiotic it is – how harmful to the American people – it keeps the foundation of the country intact and undamaged.
With these commutations, Obama is subtly changing the nature of the Executive’s powers. Whatever “good” he may be doing on the micro level – if any – it is grossly overshadowed by the dangerous precedent he is setting.