"In an unprecedented move to dramatically expand the clemency process for federal drug offenders, President Obama has again demonstrated his blatant disregard for our nation's laws and our system of checks and balances embedded in the U.S. Constitution," Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
The initiative makes federal inmates -- mostly non-violent drug offenders -- eligible for clemency if they're serving longer sentences than they would if convicted today, and meet five other criteria. Goodlatte posited that it could apply to "drug offenders who may have possessed a firearm during the commission of their offense" and "[m]embers of gangs and drug trafficking organizations."
In fact, Obama has granted clemency more rarely than his predecessors, including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, according to an investigation by Pro Publica. The pardon power flows from Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, which says the "President ... shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment."
Goodlatte's spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a query about Obama's historically low clemency record.
"This pattern of President Obama picking and choosing which laws to enforce and which to change according to his whim is an alarming trend that must stop," the congressman said in his statement. "The Justice Department’s mission is to ‘enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law,’ not to re-write the laws and to endanger American communities."