Now is time for the president to pardon the Hammonds, in the same way he pardoned drug offenders last year in the name of justice and efficiency. If mandatory minimum sentences are wrong for non-violent drug offenders, then they’re also wrong for Oregon ranchers who damaged less than 150 acres of a 187,000-acre refuge.
The winner of the current Bundy-government standoff will have to occupy the moral high ground, and a presidential pardon is a solid charge to the top of that hill. Ammon Bundy claims—maybe correctly—that the federal government has gone too far against simple ranchers like the Hammonds, and the back story to the arson charges certainly makes the Department of the Interior look like a greedy land baron. His crusade is uniquely moral, and seeks an outcome that involves the feds yielding to the common man. A presidential pardon would call Bundy’s bluff, and show reporters and ranch hands alike that common sense criminal justice reform is available to every American citizen.
If the president pardons the Hammonds, he takes the moral high ground, without having to yield to Bundy on control of federal lands. While nearly no one in polite society is willing to publicly side with the Bundys, a large percentage of Americans at least sympathize with his claims about federal overreach. A pardon accomplishes justice for the Hammonds, and puts a new shine on an Obama second term that has been accused of being a power-grab. Also, as Wilford Brimley said in the Quaker Oats commercial, “It’s the right thing to do.”