The lack of resources is only part of a deeper problem, which is that the pardon office is caught in an incurable institutional conflict. The deputy attorney general has authority to review the pardon attorney’s clemency recommendations, and federal prosecutors generally have little interest in revisiting or undoing the department’s convictions. As one former pardon attorney put it, the prosecutors are “determinedly and irreconcilably hostile” to clemency.
This conflict has stymied presidents for decades, but Mr. Obama is under no obligation to leave the process in prosecutors’ hands. He can end this blockage either by running the pardon office directly out of the White House or by appointing an independent commission, as several states have done to improve and streamline their clemency processes.