Twice in May and often here on the blog, we’ve examined the case of Clarence Aaron, the former Southern University football player who is still serving three consecutive terms without parole for a minor, first-time drug offense. The sentence he received is as puzzling as the failure of Ronald Rodgers, head of the U.S. Pardon Attorney’s office, to, as ProPublica’s Dafna Linzer reported, “accurately convey the views of the prosecutor and judge and did not disclose that they had advocated for Aaron’s immediate commutation.”
The ruckus raised by that initial report led directly to Democratic Congressmen John Conyers and Bobby Scott to appeal to President Obama to direct the Department of Justice to investigate the allegations of misconduct by the Pardon Attorney’s office, and if those allegations proved to have merit, then to have Aaron’s latest commutation request considered immediately.
That letter was sent on May 22. Today, we have reports of the President taking action. According to ProPublica’s Linzer, the Obama administration has asked for a brand-new review of Aaron’s case, and directed the Justice Department to “conduct its first ever in-depth analysis of recommendations for presidential pardons”:
White House spokesman Matt Lehrich would not comment on the status of Aaron’s petition, saying the administration did not discuss individual cases. The Justice Department also had no comment on Aaron’s request. But two individuals involved in the case said the White House had asked the Justice Department for a new review in recent weeks.
The news was welcomed by Aaron’s attorney, quoted by Linzer:
“The arguments for clemency have all been well made and the White House knows those facts,” said Margaret Love, a former pardon attorney in Washington who is representing Aaron for free. Love said she, Aaron’s family and community leaders in his hometown of Mobile, Ala., have developed a “reentry plan,” should Aaron be released soon.
“He has a job waiting for him and he will have real help integrating back into his community,” Love said.
Linzer notes that the assessment won’t involve Rodgers, who the White House reportedly is seeking to replace. Another interesting element of her report is the quote from an anonymous White House official that President Obama will have “76 days between the election and inauguration…to exercise” his pardoning power, hinting that his very low number of pardons (22) and commutations (only one) may indeed go up. That remains to be seen, but this is an encouraging sign for Aaron and his advocates.
Click the links in the first sentence for our earlier on-air coverage of Aaron’s case. Below, you’ll find both segments of our Saturday look at the school-to-prison pipeline, a discussion which not only is topical given Aaron’s early incarceration for a minor, first-time offense, but the second half, after the jump, deals with the world awaiting Aaron if he is fortunate enough to be released.