Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman wasn’t among the 273 people given pardons or commutations Tuesday by President Barack Obama. That’s highly disappointing.
In his final days in the White House, Obama has commuted the sentence of a leaker of government secrets (Chelsea Manning) and pardoned a retired Army general (James Cartwright), and he has commuted or pardoned a growing list of people who were serving overly harsh drug-related sentences.
Siegelman, however, still sits in a Louisiana cell after being convicted on federal corruption charges in 2006. He’s not due for release until August. The charges against the 69-year-old former Alabama Democratic governor are spurious and tainted by political motivations. The case against Siegelman — which involves a seat on a state health regulatory board given to former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy and a donation to a statewide lottery effort — simply doesn’t hold up. That he was convicted and sentenced to nearly seven years in federal prison is absurd.
This editorial board has repeatedly urged Obama to consider Siegelman’s case and rule on his behalf. That said, we appreciate the president’s efforts to right the wrongs of tough-on-crime drug sentences of the past that didn’t fit the crimes.
In logistical terms, the rise of overcrowding in America’s prisons can be directly tied to these onerous sentences. In human terms, lengthy prison terms for low-level drug offenders punishes the convicted but gives them few chances of life after they’re released.
The president should be commended for righting these wrongs.
But in his final few hours in the White House, Obama also should pardon Siegelman and release him from prison. It’s not about politics. It’s not about last-minute signatures. It’s about what’s right.