Harvard Law School professors Carol Steiker ’86 and Nancy Gertner joined 13 other leading constitutional and sentencing law academics and law professors to issue a letter on June 26, asking U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee leaders to “convene a hearing at your earliest convenience to examine the Office of the Pardon Attorney’s conduct with regard to applicants for sentence commutations.”

In particular, the letter asks for an investigation of current pardon attorney Ronald Rodgers’ alleged “withholding of critical information from the President” and of “troubling racial disparities in the pattern of grants and denials of clemency.” 

“We know from recent exonerations that the criminal justice system can err in determining guilt or innocence, and we also know that federal sentencing has erred on the side of extraordinary punishment.  The executive pardon power is literally the last line of defense to correct those errors,” said Gertner, Professor of Practice and former U.S. District Judge for the District of Massachusetts.

Steiker, HLS’s Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law, said:  “Full disclosure of critical information to the President and careful attention to fairness in the distribution of grants and denials of clemency are essential to a pardon process that can command the respect that this constitutionally indispensable power requires.”

The law professors’ letter is the fourth to request an investigation of the claims of pardon attorney wrongdoing. Similar letters have been written by U.S. Representatives John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.); over three dozen criminal justice, sentencing reform, and faith-based groups; and a group of 16 formerly incarcerated people who received sentence commutations from Presidents William J. Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

A full copy of the academics’ letter, along with the names and universities of the signatories, is available here: http://sentencing.typepad.com/files/062612-law-professor-letter-opa.pdf.

Gertner, a criminal defense and civil rights lawyer for 24 years and a federal district court judge for 17, focuses her scholarship on sentencing and criminal procedure.

Steiker, a 20-year scholar of the criminal justice system, has studied numerous topics in criminal law and criminal procedure, with special emphasis on capital punishment in America and, more recently, on the role of mercy in criminal justice.