A panel of experts including a former governor who was distinguished by his focus on pardons and clemency discussed building new national support for criminal justice reforms at a symposium at The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law.
The discussion featured two panels of experts including academics, a judge, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier and former Maryland Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. (left) who discussed a U.S. criminal justice system
that currently incarcerates 753 of every 100,000 citizens, the highest rate in the world.
Ehrlich, who served from 2003-2007 and is now a senior counsel at the Washington office of King & Spalding, was rare among governors for the time he spent personally reviewing requests for clemency. He wound up granting it to more than 200 convicts while in office.
Although every state grants the governor some powers of pardon, Ehrlich said many of his former colleagues in the nation’s statehouses seem not to consider clemency a key function of their job.
“This issue is easy to ignore, but it’s really about doing justice,” he said. “There are innocent people out there.”
More than two million adults and children are behind bars in the United States at a cost of roughly $60 billion annually. Andrew Ferguson, a professor with the University of the District of Columbia’s law school, said the historical reluctance to up the rate of review for pardons makes little sense.
“There’s no lobby for defendants. There’s no political power for the incarcerated,” said Luna. “To say as Governor Ehrlich has done that one should use one’s pardon power should be an unremarkable statement. Why on earth should they not use that power?
Former U.S. Pardon Attorney Margaret C. Love noted that in many jurisdictions across the country, a criminal record prevents a person from holding a decent job, voting, and bars them from many other privileges. Often, an official pardon is the only avenue for clearing one’s name and participating fully in society.
Yet the federal record for pardons, which might be expected to set a standard, is even worse than that of most states. “The federal system has the least clemency and is the most dysfunctional system,” said Love.
Other panelists at the symposium found some reason for optimism.
Roger Fairfax, a professor at the George Washington University Law School, said governors from states like Georgia, Texas, and Pennsylvania, are adopting a "smart on crime" philosophy that de-emphasizes minor offenses and focuses on programs to help former convicts reenter society.
“All of this advocacy is beginning to bear fruit in state legislatures,” said Fairfax.
District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Patricia Broderick, a 1981 alumnus of Catholic University’s law school who handles juvenile delinquency cases, said that a third of the children she sees come from neglect.
The D.C. system has set up special youth courts, drug courts, and others that provide paths to community service as an alternative to doing time. Broderick said 75 percent of those who complete a course prescribed by the drug court do not get arrested again.
“So these are the ways we seek to provide alternatives to sentencing,” she said.
Governor Ehrlich also announced his selection of the Columbus School of Law as the home of "The CUA Law/Ehrlich Partnership on Clemency,” a new project that will expand the law school’s Innocence Project Clinic to add clemency petitions the scope of work for students. The initiative will launch in August 2013.
Catholic University Law Review editors Alex Harisiadis and Elyssa Lacson were the chief organizers of the symposium. Introductory remarks were offered by Editor-in-Chief Rebecca Zimmerman, John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, and Professor Cara Drinan, who worked closely with Governor Ehrlich to bring the new clinic to the law school.