Serving as a governor involves more than making speeches and cutting ribbons. Doing the job right should require a lot of attention paid to requests for clemency and pardons, a power that only state chief executives possess.
That is the view of the Hon. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr, who served as governor of Maryland from 2003-2007 after an eight year career in the U.S. Congress.
Speaking to CUA Law students on Oct. 4 as part of the Law School’s First Year Friday series, the governor’s remarks, “Clemency Practice and Legacy,” reminded students that incarceration rates in the United States, which are highest in the world proportional to population, got that way partly because the nation’s governors don’t pay enough attention to the issue of clemency.
“When you put a save-able 18 year old into the adult system, you have usually lost him forever,” said Ehrlich.
The issue of clemency was a high priority for Ehrlich when he served in Annapolis, making him unusual among his gubernatorial colleagues from either party. He directed half of the state’s five-attorney staff in office of legal counsel to spend time each day studying requests for pardons or reduced sentences.
“I was always taught this was an executive’s job, but it’s not today,” said Ehrlich.
Currently serving as senior counsel in the government advocacy and public policy group at King and Spaulding, the issue of clemency still matters enough to Ehrlich that in early 2013 he announced the choice of the Columbus School of Law as the home of the newly formed CUA Law/Ehrlich Partnership on Clemency.
The clinic serves as an educational opportunity for students to do hands-on research and casework and as an informational clearinghouse for the nation’s governors and their staffs on issues related to clemency.
Eight students are currently at work in the clinic, which was originally the object of an energetic courtship among D.C. area law schools. Ehrlich explained that he eventually chose CUA Law because “by far the best letter, the best proposal, came from Professor Sandy Ogilvy.”
Ogilvy, who oversees the clemency clinic along with the Law School’s Innocence Project, said that the clinic has undertaken a challenging 50-state survey of how many pardons the nations’ governors have issued in recent years.
For his part, Ehrlich continues to raise money for the clemency clinic and intends to publicize it at the annual conference of the Republican Governors Association in Arizona in November.