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July 31, 2009

Presidential pardon applicants to become public

Chalk one up for the right to know.

Thanks to a new ruling and the persistence of reporter George Lardner, it looks like we'll be able to find out the names of the unsuccessful pardon and commutation applicants who tried to secure clemency from former President George W. Bush.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly gave Lardner a crucial victory in his lawsuit filed to force disclosure of the unsuccessful pardon and commutation applicants. Certainly, some entertaining names will be among the list. Through early November 2008, Bush had denied 1,535 pardon requests and 6,290 commutation requests.

Lardner, known for his work with the Washington Post, had filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Justice Department's Office of Pardon Attorney. This is evidently part of his work researching the presidential pardon power, which he is conducting through the Center for the Study of the Presidency. The pardon attorney, in turn, had contended the applicants' names were exempt from disclosure en masse. But the judge reasoned otherwise, in part:

"Just as disclosure of the names of successful clemency applicants furthers the public’s interest in understanding the functioning of the clemency process, so too does disclosure of the identities of unsuccessful clemency applicants “let citizens know ‘what their government is up to.’."

The judge further reasoned that the clemency applicants had no reasonable expectation that their applications would remain secret, and concluded their reputations would not be harmed by disclosure of their failed clemency bid.


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"Suits & Sentences" is a legal affairs blog written by Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy's Washington Bureau. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Yale Law School, where he earned a Master of Studies in Law; he also earned a Masters in Government from The Johns Hopkins University with a thesis on the Freedom of Information Act. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

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