Debra J. Saunders

Federal mandatory minimum sentences have resulted in draconian penalties for anonymous black men -- such as Clarence Aaron, who may have lost his bid for a commutation because of Rodgers' omissions and will die in prison for a first-time nonviolent drug conviction unless he wins a commutation. As a candidate, Obama was highly critical of mandatory minimums, but as president, with the power to commute unjust sentences, his universal response has been to show no mercy.

No political upside.

"Hardly anyone's getting clemency," "Pardon Power" blogger P.S. Ruckman observed. Inmates seeking a sentence commutation stand "a better chance of getting hit by lightning."

In his memoirs, "Decision Points," former President George W. Bush wrote that he had felt the pressure to pardon so keenly that on Inauguration Day, he gave Obama one piece of advice: "Announce a pardon policy early on, and stick to it."

Did Obama listen? Unless he decides to use his pardon power wisely and soon, there are only two ways this can end.

1) Obama feels the pressure as he is about to exit and grants clemency in order to please his cronies -- with maybe (or maybe not) a few politically unconnected inmates like Aaron thrown into the mix so that not all the pardons and commutations look like inside jobs.

2) Obama sees no political upside in using his unfettered pardon power to redress sentencing injustices. So he doesn't. Holder got burned, and Obama won't touch that stove.

Debra J. Saunders

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