Dozens of Criminal Justice, Religious, and Civil Rights Groups Urge Senate Judiciary Committee to Investigate Pardon Attorney Office

Letter Follows Disturbing Revelations About Handling of Clemency Petitions

May 21, 2012
Contact: Monica Pratt Raffanel, 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – FAMM today released a letter signed by more than three dozen criminal justice reform, religious and civil rights organizations urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate the Office of Pardon Attorney (OPA) at the U.S. Department of Justice. FAMM first called for a congressional investigation last week.

According to FAMM President Julie Stewart, “The letter sent today demonstrates that this story is not going to go away and that DOJ cannot sweep OPA’s disturbing behavior under the rug.” The calls for investigation follow recent news reports that the OPA has orchestrated the rejection of apparently deserving applications for clemency.

The letter released today reads, in part:

A news story jointly published by ProPublica and The Washington Post on May 14 revealed disturbing new information about misconduct in the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA) at the U.S. Department of Justice with regard to applicants for sentence commutations. The story follows an earlier report released last December about OPA’s role in the pardon process. For those of us who were already concerned that the OPA was hindering the clemency process, the two stories confirmed our fears. It is time for action. We urge you to investigate the activities of the OPA since at least 2001 and to hold an oversight hearing as soon as possible to review the serious questions that have been raised in these news reports.

As you know, Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution gives the president “the power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” Although pardons will not solve the myriad problems currently plaguing the criminal justice system, it is nevertheless essential to ensure that the President is able to use his pardon authority effectively in order to provide justice—and, in some cases, mercy—to deserving individuals. The OPA was created ostensibly to assist the president in the exercise of this important function. The recent media investigations into the OPA’s activities, however, suggest that the OPA is withholding or misrepresenting critical information from the presidents it is supposed to serve. Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize an office that is abusing its power, nor should applicants for executive clemency face a deck that is stacked against them in secret.

Signatories of today’s letter include: American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Justice Fellowship/Prison Fellowship Ministries, The Sentencing Project, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, NAACP, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society, and the Open Society Policy Center. The full text of the letter and full list of signatories can be found here.

The ProPublica article by reporter Dafna Linzer that prompted the calls for investigation can be found here. Ms. Linzer’s first story about the OPA, published last December, revealed that presidential pardons are granted disproportionately to white applicants.

On Thursday, May 24, FAMM is holding a briefing at the National Press Club to further delve into the OPA scandal and to put a human face on people affected by these policies. Click here for details. Confirmed speakers include:

  • Linda Aaron, mother of federal prisoner Clarence Aaron, a first-time, nonviolent drug offender serving three life sentences, without parole;
  • Debi Campbell, a former model federal prisoner who served her entire 17-year sentence after her multiple commutation petitions were denied;
  • Dafna Linzer, senior reporter and author of the ProPublica articles;
  • Sam Morison, served for 13 years as a staff attorney in the Office of the Pardon Attorney;
  • Molly Gill, FAMM director of special projects.

Read stories of federal prisoners serving unjust mandatory sentences at

FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) is a national, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that supports fair and proportionate sentencing laws that allow judicial discretion while maintaining public safety.



About Us

FAMM is a national, nonprofit organization working for fair and proportionate sentencing laws.