President Obama is using the pardon power to rewrite the statute unilaterally. The time drug offenders spend in jail will be based on his subjective notion of fairness, not the policy embodied in our drug statutes. This is not faithful execution of the law, which is the president’s core constitutional duty. It is the execution of Obama’s whims.
Holder’s announced reasons for this policy are bogus. Because the federal and state governments have concurrent jurisdiction over narcotics offenses, the feds focus on drug importation and distribution felonies, while the states cover mere possession and use. So it simply isn’t true that thousands of people are languishing in federal prison simply for drug possession or addiction.
And as far as violence goes, federal statutes and the federal sentencing guidelines enhance prison terms based on violence and, in particular, the use of firearms in connection with drug crimes. That is, nonviolence has already been taken into account when judges sentence drug offenders.
Finally, Attorney General Holder and the Obama administration may be the worst imaginable officials to carry out a commutation program based on the president’s pardon power. When he served as deputy attorney general under Attorney General Janet Reno, Holder was infamously at the center of the Clinton administration’s pardon scandal. He was a key figure in the 1999 pardons of FALN terrorists; and the pardon process he engineered for Clinton resulted in the release not only of Marc Rich but of two convicted Weather Underground terrorists. So obviously, his idea of “nonviolent” probably does not conform to what most Americans think of when they hear that term.
Moreover, we should be under no illusion: this is not an exercise in mitigating injustice in individual cases. This is an abuse of political power to rewrite the federal drug laws because, as a matter of ideology, Obama does not agree with stern sentences for drug offenders.