Late last year, ProPublica and the Washington Post published a series of stories that exposed racial disparities in the awarding of presidential pardons. Dafna Linzer and Jennifer LaFleur reported that white people were nearly four times more likely to receive a pardon from the president than minorities were. Additionally, getting a member of Congress to support a person's pardon application made it three times more likely that they would receive it.
This past Sunday, the Washington Post's editorial page urged President Obama to reform the pardons process. "Since taking office in 2009, he has issued 22 pardons and one commutation," the Post wrote. "Mr. Obama is on track to underperform President George W. Bush, who issued a measly 189 pardons during his two terms in office -- the stingiest record of any two-term president since World War II."
The editorial saw signs of hope in President's Obama's recent decision to commute the sentence of Eugenia Marie Jennings, a black mother of three, who was sentenced to nearly 22 years in prison and fined for selling crack cocaine. Jennings, a victim of domestic violence, served a longer sentence than defendants selling other drugs because the law disproportionately penalized crack dealers.
"During her decade behind bars, Ms. Jennings overcame her own addiction and began speaking with students about the dangers of drug abuse," the Post said. "Mr. Obama...ordered that Ms. Jennings be freed Dec. 21, in time for the holidays and to see her daughter graduate from high school; he kept in place the supervised release requirement. Ms. Jennings was one of the fortunate few who had the help of top-flight lawyers, D.C. advocates and a home-state U.S. senator (Illinois Democrat Richard J. Durbin). Sure there are others just as worthy who may not have secured the lobbying support to distinguish their cases among thousands filed each year."
"The president should build on his courageous pardoning of Ms. Jennings," the Post concluded, "by directing the Justice Department to help him fulfill his constitutional duty to see that justice is done."