A growing backlog has about 1,600 Illinois convicts waiting for months and even years for clemency decisions from Gov. Rod Blagojevich, reports the Chicago Tribune. Since taking office in 2003, the governor has pardoned 67 people and denied 1,160 clemency petitions. In more than a year, he has announced a decision on only one petition, rejecting that clemency request. “I don’t understand why [the governor] doesn’t just deal with the cases,” said Margaret Love, former head of the pardon office at the U.S. Department of Justice. “I don’t know of any other governor that has a backlog like this.”
The delay has led a dozen convicted felons to file a federal lawsuit alleging Blagojevich is taking too long to make pardon decisions. In their cases, a pardon would allow their criminal records to be expunged, likely improving their chances to find work. Some have been waiting for a decision since 2004. U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall said Blagojevich can make whatever decision he wants on pardon requests, but the clemency statute requires that the governor “make some decision within a reasonable period of time.” The ruling is believed to be one of the nation’s first to address the swiftness of executive-clemency decisions and could have wider impact than in just Illinois if upheld on appeal. Lawyers for Blagojevich have asked that a federal appeals court review it.