Some critics say the Justice Department is too slow to make recommendations on pardons. “The issue is whether the president will still apply standards and meritocracy,” says one advocate after President Trump pardons conservative Dinesh D’Souza
Matthew Charles was sentenced to 35 years in prison in 1996 for selling crack cocaine. In prison, he took college classes and taught fellow inmates. He was released early, in 2016, and began rebuilding his life. Last month, Charles was sent back to prison when a federal court ruled he did not qualify for early release. His lawyers will ask the Justice Department to commute the rest of his sentence, but with 9,000 petitioners ahead of him, the process could take years, the New York Times reports. Cases like this make some reform advocates say they would welcome a president willing to bypass the Justice Department’s recommendation system and grant more pardons, as President Trump has done five times. Most recently, he pardoned Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative commentator who pleaded guilty in 2014 to violating campaign finance law.
Both liberal and conservative advocates say that by pardoning political supporters whose cases largely failed to meet the basic guidelines for pardons, Trump could turn a slow and imperfect system into an unequal and unjust one in which those with fame, money or access to the president’s ear are first in line to receive clemency. “A more regular and robust use of presidential clemency, and a willingness to go around the Justice Department process, would be applauded by many,” said Kevin Ring, a conservative and the president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “The issue is whether the president will still apply standards and meritocracy. Will he weigh the injustices and mete out justice to reflect the needs of a situation? That doesn’t seem to be the case.” The pardon office has a reputation for slow decision making. Of the backlog of 11,203 pardon and commutation cases, only 2,876 have been filed since Trump became president. He has denied 180 pardon and sentence-reduction applications sent to DOJ.