Yesterday, in my post on Mike Huckabee and commutations, I wrote :

[T]he politically prudent tactic would have been to simply refuse to grant any leniency—ever. Other governors with their sights set on higher offices had learned that doing nothing—even to correct obvious instances of injustice—was unlikely to cause any long-term political damage. Keeping an innocent man in prison is less harmful to an ambitious politician than freeing someone who may commit other crimes.

Today, on the Laura Ingraham Show, Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty admits that he follows the politically prudent tactic of simply refusing to grant any leniency—ever.
In Minnesota, I don’t think I’ve ever voted for clemency. We’ve given out pardons for things after everybody has served out their term, but again, usually for more minor offenses. But clemency, certainly not. Commutation of sentence, certainly not.

Now what Gov. Pawlenty probably meant is that the the criminal justice system in Minnesota is so perfect that clemency and commutation are never, ever needed because no one ever gets an unjust sentence, no relevant facts are ever provided after sentencing that should be considered, etc. The reason no clemency is granted, in other words, is because it is never needed to correct an injustice.

Surely that is what he is saying because otherwise it might appear that he is shirking his duties as governor and prejudging all cases before he ever examines them to see if an injustice needs to be rectified. I can’t imagine he would mean anything like, much less have the audacity to say it on a national radio program. To do so would suggest that he is merely a parody of a “law and order conservative” and has no comprehension of what justice requires.

The powers of clemency can be abused in two ways: by using the power too freely, as Gov. Huckabee appears to have done, or by refusing to consider movie downloads using them at all, as Gov. Pawlenty appears to do. Finding that balance is the reason we value prudence and judgement in our state executives. Perhaps somewhere in America there is a Republican governor who doesn’t suffer from either an excess of political compassion or of political cowardice. Maybe the GOP will find them before 2012.

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