When then-Governor Jerry Brown asked the Supreme Court for permission to commute the 1980 life-without-parole sentence of convicted murderer Howard Ford, it said “no.” Today, over three years later, the court approved Governor Gavin Newsom’s renewed request. The commutation will make Ford eligible for a parole suitability hearing.
A Governor is constitutionally required to get the court’s recommendation before he can grant clemency to anyone, like Ford, who has been “twice convicted of a felony.”
Ford’s was one of 10 Brown recommendation requests that the court turned down without explanation. (See here and here.) Under the deferential standard of review announced by the court (see here and here), the denials were essentially court determinations that the clemency grants would have been abuses of gubernatorial powers.
In 2019, Justice Goodwin Liu issued a separate statement suggesting that failed clemency recommendation requests could be renewed. Ford’s is the only one of the 10 denied Brown requests that Newsom has resubmitted.
Unlike Brown, Newsom has a nearly perfect record on his clemency recommendation requests. Newsom withdrew one request before a ruling, but the court has approved all 43 of the requests it has decided.
Consideration of the Ford request — which was made last October — was delayed because, in response to a third-party motion to unseal the clemency record, the court on December 1 sent the record back to Newsom with instructions to resubmit it and justify keeping parts of it confidential. (See here.) On December 30, Newsom filed a motion to seal the record and filed a proposed redacted and unredacted record on January 5. The court subsequently made the redacted version of the record open to the public.