The Obama Justice Department is arguing to keep secret the names of more than 9,200 people whose applications for pardons and commutations were denied by President George W. Bush, reports the National Law Journal. Last year, the department failed to persuade a judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that the privacy interest of the unsuccessful applicants outweighs any public value of producing a list. The department has asked a federal appeals court to reverse the ruling.
The case is a politically sensitive one for the Justice Department, given Attorney General Eric Holder involvement in the decision to pardon fugitive Marc Rich at the end of the Clinton administration. The Rich pardon turned into a Washington scandal that compelled Holder to apologize for mistakes when it came up during his confirmation hearing. Since October 2009, Obama has received 382 pardon petitions and 2,275 applications for commutation — on top of more than 2,000 pending petitions. Obama has not granted or denied a single petition. Routine disclosure of all names could deter some people from seeking a pardon. The case stems from a Freedom of Information Act request filed by ex-Washington Post reporter George Lardner, who is writing a book on the history of clemency.