Warren calls for changes to presidential pardon power, pledges to create clemency board

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.) is promising to change how presidents grant clemencies and pardons if her White House bid is successful. 

The Democratic presidential candidate on Thursday announced that, if president, she would remove the clemency process from the Justice Department’s jurisdiction and instead create a clemency board that would make recommendations directly to the White House. 

“The president has significant powers to grant clemency and pardons, and historically presidents have used that power broadly,” Warren said. “But today’s hierarchical process at DOJ results in relatively few and conservative clemency recommendations.”

She said that the board would be instructed to identify a broad class of “potentially-deserving individuals for review,” including individuals who are incarcerated for outdated or discriminatory drug laws and those serving mandatory minimum sentences. 


Citing Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE’s (D-N.J.) previous proposal, Warren said that the board would also prioritize the cases of older Americans “incarcerated for unduly long sentences.” 

“Research shows that people tend to age out of crime and are substantially less likely to recidivate, but today thousands of elderly people remain behind bars,” she added. “And those serving sentences equivalent to life in prison are disproportionately black and brown.”

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The pledge was attached to the senator’s expansive criminal justice reform plan, which was first released last year. The proposal includes calls for repealing a substantial part of the 1994 crime law and decriminalizing marijuana.  


The addendum comes just weeks after Trump commuted the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) and also pardoned three high-profile white-collar criminals. In total, Trump pardoned or commuted the sentences of 11 people, many of whom had advocates urging the White House to step in on behalf of their case. 

“We need a president on the side of the people, not the corrupt and well-connected,” Warren said after the White House announced the slate of pardons and sentence commutations. 

The president’s clemency power only extends to criminal offenses, according to the Constitution. The Office of the Pardon Attorney within the Justice Department assists presidents in those matters, with all requests for executive clemency going through the office for review.