February 28, 2022

Cori Bush to bring Johnnie Cotton, Clemency Grantee, as Virtual State of the Union Guest

ST. LOUIS, MO — Today, Congresswoman Cori Bush (MO-01), Vice Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, announced she would be bringing Mr. Johnnie Cotton of St. Louis as her virtual guest to the 2022 State of the Union. Mr. Cotton (he/him) is a clemency grantee whose sentence was commuted on January 19th, 2017 by President Barack Obama.

“When I met Mr. Cotton, his story moved me to my core,” said Congresswoman Cori Bush.”Mr. Cotton exemplifies why it is critical for President Biden to act with urgency in granting clemency to the thousands of eligible people who are incarcerated. He was able to be by his mother’s side when she passed away. He has climbed the ranks at his job. He is in the process of purchasing his home. President Biden does not need Congress to grant clemency. With the stroke of a pen, he can reunite families, stabilize communities, and deliver a major step towards racial justice. Tonight, I reiterate my call to the President: Grant clemency now.”

“My pathway from clemency has been amazing,” said Mr. Johnnie Cotton, who received clemency in 2017. “I have had the chance to reunite with my family and loved ones. I got a job working with the Missouri Department of Transportation. I am grateful and humbled that the system did not fail me and gave me a second chance at life — and I would love to see other individuals have that second chance too. I’d like to thank Congresswoman Cori Bush for pushing the 'Fix Clemency Act’ and the Urban League’s ‘Save Our Sons’ program. Last but not least, I would also like to give a big thanks to Barack Obama for giving me that second chance. I have proved the doubters wrong.”

Mr. Johnnie Cotton was sentenced to 30 years in prison for drug possession with intent to distribute. His sentence was commuted after serving 16 years. Reuniting with his 17 year old son, being present for his mother’s passing, and even getting engaged, Mr. Cotton has sought to make the most of his second chance. Most recently, Mr. Cotton and his fiancee purchased a home — one of his proudest accomplishments. Thanks to help from the Urban League’s ‘Save Our Sons’ Program, Mr. Cotton now works at the Missouri Department of Transportation and was recently promoted to be able to lead training sessions for other employees. 

From her first hearings in Congress, Congresswoman Cori Bush has put clemency reform at the center of her work on the Judiciary committee. In her first Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties subcommittee hearing, for instance, Bush focused on how the pardon power should be used as a tool to correct systemic injustices in the criminal legal system.

In January 2021, Congresswomen Bush and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07)  led 35 of their colleagues in sending a letter to President Biden, urging him to immediately commute the sentence of everyone on federal death row. The two Congresswomen later headlined a rally with the National Council For Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls at which they urged President Biden to grant clemency to 100 women in his first 100 days.

In September 2021, Congresswoman Bush joined Reps. Pressley, Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), David Trone (MD-06) and Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) and over 20 of their colleagues in sending a letter to the Biden Administration urging the President to commute the sentences of the more than 4,000 people who were released on home confinement in 2020 as part of an effort to slow the spread of COVID -19. 

Later last fall, Congresswoman Bush joined her fellow Missouri Democrat, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), in urging Missouri Governor Michael L. Parson to stay the execution of Ernest Lee Johnson. The Members argued that, “Like slavery and lynching did before it, the death penalty perpetuates cycles of trauma, violence and state-sanctioned murder in Black and brown communities.”

In December 2021, Congresswoman Bush joined Reps. Pressley and Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08) in introducing the Fix Clemency Act, historic legislation to transform our nation’s broken clemency system and address the growing mass incarceration crisis. The FIX Clemency Act would create an independent U.S. Clemency Board (Board) that is made up of nine individuals appointed by the President, including a person who is formerly incarcerated. The Board would be responsible for reviewing applications requesting a pardon, commutation, or relief from collateral consequences of convictions. All recommendations by the Board will be transmitted directly to the President and included in an annual report to Congress. A full copy of the Fix Clemency Act can be viewed here.


Congresswoman Cori Bush sits on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, serves as the Progressive Caucus Deputy Whip, and proudly represents St. Louis as a politivist in the halls of the United States Congress.