Updated 5:09 p.m., 2/20/13
At a symposium last week hosted by Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law, a former governor announced the formation of a new clinic there devoted to the study of pardons—the first of its type.
Former Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich Jr., the keynote speaker, highlighted clemency as one of the governor's most important powers, and said he took a real interest in the state's clemency process. Ehrlich, now a senior counsel at the Washington office of King & Spalding, said he granted clemency to more than 200 convicts during his four years in office.
After a series of stories published by the Washington Post and ProPublica shed light on a dysfunctional presidential pardon system, unfairly favoring white applicants, Ehrlich said he planned to open the nation's first law school clinic and training program devoted to pardons. Five law schools competed, and Ehrlich used his February 15 address to announce to a cheering crowd that Columbus School of Law had been chosen.
"This initiative would have constitutive elements of public advocacy, executive training for governors, and provide a clinical experience for law students," Ehrlich said. "This initiative promises to be exciting."
The United States' high incarceration rate – including more than two million people are behind bars – comes at a cost of roughly $60 billion annually. According to Ehrlich, the "tough on crime" doctrine, including mandatory sentences and morphing juvenile crimes into adult crimes, is the reason why America's incarceration rate has been increasing since the 1980s.
Ehrlich said he had "normalized" the process in Maryland, in part through acceptingclemency referrals only from the parole office in the case, conducting thorough investigations, and notifying the victims of the crime. “It's really about doing justice and really practicing law; it [was] the most rewarding part of the job,” Ehrlich added.
Other panelists at the symposium discussed related issues.
District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Patricia Broderick, who handles juvenile delinquency cases, said that a third of the children she sees come from neglect. "Education is such a key," she said. "We need to find a way to make education more valued and address truancy."
Roger Fairfax, a professor at the George Washington University Law School, said some Republican governors, from states like Georgia, Texas, and Pennsylvania, are adopting a "smart on crime" philosophy, including efforts to enhance public safety and reduce recidivism, in part by decriminalizing some minor offenses and enhancing programs to aid former convicts reenter society.
"In the first hundred years of this country, executive clemency played a very very operational role in the criminal justice system," said former U.S. Pardon Attorney Margaret Colgate Love. "Clemency actually is not supposed to play an operational role. Clemency is supposed to signal placeswhere the legal system needs to be fixed; it is not supposed to substitute for a perfect legal system."