Sessions: Obama abuses 'pardon power'

Greg Nash

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) called the Obama administration’s decision to allow nonviolent drug convicts to apply for presidential clemency “an alarming abuse of the pardon power.”

“If this latest unilateral action becomes the norm, then what kind of Pandora’s box has the president opened?” Sessions said Wednesday evening. “Can a president pardon all people convicted of financial fraud, or identity theft, or unlawful re-entry into the country, or any category of crime when Congress does not act as the executive wishes?”

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On Wednesday, the Department of Justice announced it would accept clemency applications for nonviolent, low-level criminals who have served at least 10 years in prison.

“To unilaterally determine that a sentence was unjustified simply because the president disagrees with the underlying criminal justice policy is a thumb in the eye of the law enforcement officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, court and prison personnel who put time and resources into these cases,” Sessions said. “And it sends the message that the United States government is not serious about combating drug crimes.”

The White House has pushed to consider more clemency applications for people — many of whom are drug offenders — who do not pose a threat to safety. Many of the new applications will come from people sentenced under previous guidelines for crack cocaine. 

In 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the divide between punishment for crack cocaine and powder cocaine charges, which the administration has called harsh and unfair.

Sessions, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, supported the Fair Sentencing Act but said Congress purposefully didn’t make the bill retroactive. 

“The legislation established new sentencing rules for future violators. Congress debated the issue of retroactivity and explicitly declined to pass it,” Sessions said. “The president is now implementing through executive action what Congress expressly chose not to pass into law.”

Sessions said Obama’s actions were an “abuse of executive power” and a “danger” to the U.S. Constitution.

— Mario Trujillo contributed to this article.