Congresswoman Cori Bush Calls for Presidents to use their Pardon Power for Clemency Applications
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congresswoman Cori Bush (MO-01) took part in her first Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties subcommittee hearing on the House Judiciary Committee, entitled “Constitutional Means to Prevent Abuse of the Clemency Power.” The hearing provided an opportunity for members to consider the purpose and scope of the President’s pardon power. The Congresswoman’s remarks focused on how the pardon power should be applied extensively as a corrective tool for systemic injustices in the criminal legal system.
“In the context of our punitive carceral system, the pardon power allows Presidents to put humanity over greed, justice over violence, and righteousness over power,” said Congresswoman Cori Bush. “Our country is in the midst of a national reckoning on racial justice. For far too long, we have oppressed, exploited, policed, and criminalized Black and brown communities. We are in need of national healing. This moment requires transformative change ? and it’s the kind of change that can be done with the stroke of a pen.”
To watch and download the Congresswoman’s full exchange with Caroline Frederickson, Distinguished Visitor from Practice at Georgetown University Law Center, and Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause, click here.
The Congresswoman’s opening remarks as prepared are below:
St. Louis and I thank you, Chairman, for convening today’s crucial hearing.
It is without question that Donald Trump did away with all Presidential norms. Donald Trump’s use of the pardon power will forever be associated with nepotism and corruption. It made clear that under Donald Trump — an act of mercy is best given to wealthy donors, well-connected friends, his cronies, and his white supremacist allies. Under Trump, the pardon power became an extension of the privilege afforded to the rich and powerful.
Meanwhile, 14,000 clemency applications are languishing in the bureaucracy of the Department of Justice. Thousands of people — with no connections to the upper echelons of power and access - are left with limited recourse, caged and behind bars as the devastating uncertainty of COVID-19 runs rampant.
The pardon power is not the problem. The problem is that it has not been used enough to correct for systemic injustices.
Take for example Byron Miller. Byron was born and raised in Missouri’s First District, right here in St. Louis. He was convicted on federal drug charges at 28 years old. He is now 53, living with hypertension and asthma, fearing for his life as COVID-19 makes its way through our prisons. Byron’s mother is now 80, his father had cancer, and his daughter was only six years old when Byron was sentenced. His absence is deeply felt in his family and community.
These are the kinds of people our Presidents are leaving behind. People like Byron, who are aging behind bars. And others who — had they been sentenced today — would be serving much less time, if any time at all.
The pardon power was created as a virtually unchecked power of the presidency. This extraordinary power can be a powerful tool of freedom. In the context of our punitive carceral system, the pardon power allows Presidents to put humanity over greed, justice over violence, and righteousness over power.
Our country is in the midst of a national reckoning on racial justice. For far too long, we have oppressed, exploited, policed, and criminalized Black and brown communities. We are in need of national healing. This moment requires transformative change ? and it’s the kind of change that can be done with the stroke of a pen.
Congresswoman Bush has been leading calls for President Biden to end the federal death penalty by granting clemency to all on federal death row. In December 2020, she penned a powerful op-ed for TIME magazine, asking then-President-elect Biden to grant clemency to all federal death row inmates. In January, Congresswoman Bush, alongside Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, led 35 colleagues in sending a letter to President Biden, urging him to immediately commute all federal death row sentences.
Congresswoman Cori Bush represents Missouri’s First Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. She serves on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. She is also a Deputy Whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a proud member of the Congressional Black Caucus. She is a registered nurse, single mother, and an ordained pastor. Following the murder of Michael Brown Jr. by a now-terminated Ferguson police officer, she became a civil rights activist and community organizer fighting for justice for Black lives on the streets of Missouri and across the country.