As reported by NPR, a group of lawmakers in the House of representatives are proposing a new law that would transform the federal clemency process. Whereas clemency petitions are currently reviewed and adjudicated by the Department of Justice, the new law would create an independent clemency board for people convicted of federal crimes. The bill, known as the FIX Clemency Act, would create a 9-member board whose members are appointed by the President.
The proposal comes after decades of criticism that the DOJ is not an appropriate agency to review clemency petitions given the fact that the DOJ is the central prosecuting authority for the federal government, which one representative described as “an inherent conflict of interest” while citing the influence of law enforcement and prosecutors in the process.
The legislation would also seek to remove bureaucratic red tape and streamline the process so that the President can be more involved. Currently, a petition must survive several layers of review before the President can weigh in. As a result, there is a backlog of over 15,000 clemency petitions that have not been ruled on.
As written, the bill would require that the 9-member clemency board include at least one of the following: a formerly incarcerated person, a person directly impacted by crime, an individual who has served in a federal defender organization, and a representative of the DOJ.
President Biden’s campaign platform included a promise that he would “broadly use” his clemency powers for certain offenders, namely non-violent drug offenders. According to the DOJ’s clemency statistics, he has yet to grant a clemency petition, though grants are generally rare during a president’s first year in office.