The Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law has been selected as the institutional home for “The CUA Law/Ehrlich Partnership on Clemency," among the country’s first law school-based clinics devoted to the research and study of executive clemency and the power of pardon.
The official announcement was made on at the National Press Club on Feb. 20 by Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr (above), who served as Maryland’s 60th governor from 2003-2007 and whose tenure was distinguished by the time he spent personally reviewing requests for pardons from convicted criminals.
Currently a senior counsel at King and Spaulding (which announced a $5,000 donation to the new partnership with another to follow next year), Ehrlich characterized the clemency project with the law school as a vital tool to educate and remind state chief executives of the vast power they possess but too often use infrequently.
“This is part of the job. But, your political courage quotient will be tested. It’s a strange issue, and neither Democrats nor Republicans seem to care very much about it,” Ehrlich said.
Under the auspices of its already established Innocence Project, the Columbus School of Law will expand the scope of its students’ current duties to include the preparation of pardon applications starting next August.
“We will also conduct a training program for newly elected state executives or their chiefs of staff, and we will provide a venue for educational and advocacy programs on executive clemency,” said law school Dean Daniel Attridge. “This is a splendid example of how our cooperative efforts can directly benefit our institution, our students, and our mission to serve the public.”
The announcement of the clemency clinic partnership came against the larger backdrop of a CUA Law sponsored symposium on the subject: “Smart on Crime: A New Era of Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform,” that invited leading experts to dissect the shortcomings of the current system and suggest improvements.
Panelist Edwin Meese III, who served as served as the 75th Attorney General of the United States under President Reagan and currently holds a chair in public policy at The Heritage Foundation, said that California began improving its pardon policies dramatically back in the 1960s when Reagan served as governor. But a pardon can rest on a convict’s behavior behind bars, and Meese said that brutal prison conditions can make it hard to be a model inmate.
“What goes on in prisons now is not very different from 100 years ago, but what happens in prison has a big impact on who receives a pardon later,” Meese noted.
There would be much less of a need for gubernatorial pardons in the first place if fewer behaviors were criminalized, said Rep. Bobby Scott, (D-VA). Mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses, he said, are a big part of the problem.
“These sentences discriminate against minorities and violate common sense,” said Scott. “We can reduce crime or we can play politics. Unfortunately, we can’t do both.”
Margaret Love, who served as the U.S. Pardon Attorney between 1990 and 1997 and focuses her private practice on the issue today, could not understand the reluctance of many politicians who hold the power of pardon to use it.
“It should be one of the happiest duties of an executive. It should be easy,” said Love, who expressed surprise and disappointment in President Obama’s record so far of issuing just 22 presidential pardons, the lowest total to date in American history.
“A pardon isn’t supposed to make up for flaws in the legal system,” said Love. “I’m hoping that this wonderful new program at Catholic University’s law school can get a discussion going.”