Norton Asks President Obama to Give Local Clemency Authority to D.C. Mayor

WASHINGTON, D.C. – (RealEstateRama) — Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today released her letter to President Obama asking that he “make a historic contribution to home rule by delegating to the [District of Columbia] mayor authority to grant clemency for criminal offenses against D.C.” This January, Norton introduced a bill that would give D.C. exclusive authority, like that of states, to grant clemency for criminal convictions under its laws. However, to hasten home-rule clemency, she is using the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) opinion that the President has authority to grant clemency in all D.C. criminal cases and exclusive authority for D.C. felonies.

If so, Norton argues, the President can and should delegate his clemency authority to the mayor just as Congress has delegated its authority to legislate on D.C. matters (with certain exceptions) to the mayor and the D.C. Council. Under current practice, clemency petitions for D.C. convictions, like federal convictions, are submitted to DOJ for the President’s consideration.

In her letter, Norton wrote, “Not only does the current clemency process for D.C. Code offenders violate home rule, it has harmed D.C. offenders. It appears that only one D.C. Code offender has ever been granted clemency, regardless of whether D.C. Code felons have been housed by the D.C. government, as was the case before passage of the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997 (Revitalization Act), or by the federal government, since the Revitalization Act. Delegating this authority to the mayor would be consistent with your criminal justice reforms, including sentencing reform and the DOJ’s 2014 Clemency Initiative, and consistent with your budgets granting D.C. more home rule, such as budget autonomy. In the ordinary course of business involving thousands of federal offenders, it appears that the Pardon Attorney, an unelected federal official unfamiliar with D.C. law, does not give the same priority to D.C. Code offenders as to federal offenders. In contrast, the D.C. mayor, who has expert knowledge of local laws and facts and circumstances, would be able to give D.C. Code offenders the same priority state officials now give to their own offenders. D.C. residents deserve access to the same acts of mercy or leniency as state offenders, who can apply for clemency under state law, or as federal offenders, who receive clemency much more frequently than D.C. offenders.”

Norton’s full letter is below.

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We greatly appreciate your support for equal rights for the District of Columbia. In your final year in office, I urge you to make a historic contribution to home rule by delegating to the D.C. mayor authority to grant clemency for criminal offenses against D.C.

While the president does not have authority to grant clemency for criminal violations of state law, which resides with state governments, it is the view of the Department of Justice (DOJ) that criminal violations of the D.C. Code are “offenses against the United States” within the pardon power of the president under the U.S. Constitution. However, no court has ever ruled on whether the president or mayor has authority to grant clemency to D.C. offenders, but the practice has been that the Office of the Pardon Attorney in DOJ reviews clemency applications for D.C. Code offenders and makes recommendations to the president for a final decision as if they were federal offenders.

Not only does the current clemency process for D.C. Code offenders violate home rule, it has harmed D.C. offenders. It appears that only one D.C. Code offender has ever been granted clemency, regardless of whether D.C. Code felons have been housed by the D.C. government, as was the case before passage of the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997 (Revitalization Act), or by the federal government, since the Revitalization Act.

Delegating this authority to the mayor would be consistent with your criminal justice reforms, including sentencing reform and the DOJ’s 2014 Clemency Initiative, and consistent with your budgets granting D.C. more home rule, such as budget autonomy. In the ordinary course of business involving thousands of federal offenders, it appears that the Pardon Attorney, an unelected federal official unfamiliar with D.C. law, does not give the same priority to D.C. Code offenders as to federal offenders. In contrast, the D.C. mayor, who has expert knowledge of local laws and facts and circumstances, would be able to give D.C. Code offenders the same priority state officials now give to their own offenders. D.C. residents deserve access to the same acts of mercy or leniency as state offenders, who can apply for clemency under state law, or as federal offenders, who receive clemency much more frequently than D.C. offenders.

The chief executive delegates decision-making authority to federal officials on a range of issues. Indeed, there are more than two million federal civilian employees who make decisions under your authority. The delegation of clemency authority to the D.C. mayor would be consistent with this precedent, particularly considering the jurisdiction the Executive Branch still exercises over the District of Columbia.

I note that I introduced legislation this year, the District of Columbia Home Rule Clemency Act (H.R. 4338), that would put D.C. in the same position as states by vesting the authority to grant clemency for criminal violations of local law in the D.C. government. However, I do not expect the bill to be considered this year. Your administration has taken bold, historic executive action on a range of issues. I urge you to use your executive authority to expand D.C. home rule by delegating to the mayor clemency authority.

Sincerely,

Eleanor Holmes Norton

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