Chairman Nadler Statement for "Oversight Hearing on Clemency and the Office of the Pardon Attorney"
Washington, May 19, 2022
Washington, D.C. - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, during a Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing on oversight of clemency and the Office of the Pardon Attorney”:
"I thank Chairwoman Jackson Lee for holding this important oversight hearing on executive clemency and the Office of the Pardon Attorney.
"I hope that today’s discussion provides us with proposals that will enable President Biden and his successors to apply the power of executive clemency as the Framers intended—as a tool necessary to the fair administration of justice, that tempers justice with mercy.
"Over the past several decades, Republicans and Democrats have failed to employ this power, which vests solely in the President, to help remedy injustice as the Framers first conceived.
"After decades of draconian mandatory sentencing policies, far too many nonviolent Federal offenders—disproportionately people of color—remain in prison serving what we know now are unnecessarily harsh sentences. Some of these prisoners are elderly and suffering from chronic illnesses and have served their debt to society many times over. Many others face hardships when seeking reentry into their communities after completing their sentences due to the collateral consequences of their convictions.
"Clemency is the only remaining relief for many of these people. Yet thousands of clemency petitions are currently pending due to the more than 15,000 petitions left by the previous administration for President Biden to consider.
"The tremendous responsibility of reviewing these petitions and making recommendations to the president has been customarily delegated to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, an agency within the Department of Justice.
"This Subcommittee has both the authority and an obligation to evaluate the efficacy of this office and to improve upon its ability to support a vital authority of the executive.
"I know that many of our witnesses today agree that the current clemency process requires immediate reform. Some may even argue that the process should be removed from the Department of Justice altogether due to the inherent conflict of interest posed by placing the authority to review petitions for clemency within the same department that prosecuted each petitioner.
"In recent years, much of this Committee’s consideration of clemency has centered around abuse of the pardon power—by presidents of both parties—in individual cases. I appreciate the opportunity today instead to focus on clear-minded systemic reforms that will increase the rate and diversity of clemency grants, paying special attention to the plight of incarcerated women and minorities who have borne the brunt of the so-called war on drugs.
"I commend President Biden for doing what many previous presidents have not—that is, issuing grants of clemency earlier in his term and not just before his presidency ends. Last month, he used criteria similar to those used by President Obama to issue more than 1,700 grants of clemency—primarily to nonviolent drug offenders who would have received a lower sentence if they were charged with the same offenses today.
"Recalling our recent discussions surrounding the exercise of Compassionate Release and implementation of the First Step Act, we know that there are thousands more remaining in prison, or who are now released on home confinement, with similar stories.
"I hope that our witnesses today will discuss how Congress can help the Office of the Pardon Attorney and the President reach more of these individuals and provide relief that will allow them the ability to return to their communities from home confinement without risking return to prison.
"Although Congress has little authority over the President’s exercise of the clemency power, we can enact measures that will pave the way for more clemency grants.
"I would like to thank the witnesses for appearing today, I look forward to hearing their testimony, and I yield back the balance of my time."