Final Acts Reveal the True Jerry Brown

During his last eight years in office, California governor Jerry Brown issued 283 commutations and 1,332 pardons. During his final weeks in office, the state Supreme Court denied seven of Brown’s clemency requests as an “abuse of power.” It was the first time the state’s high court had done so in more than half a century, and the rejections seem fully justified. The governor’s candidates included Kenny Lee, who murdered a cab driver, and fellow murderers Huan Nguyen, Joe Hernandez, Howard Ford, and Borey Ai. All had deprived their victims of the most basic right, the right to live.

In one of his last acts as governor, Brown ordered new testing of evidence in the case of Kevin Cooper, on death row for the slayings of Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica and neighbor Christopher Hughes in 1983. Former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger twice rejected Cooper’s petitions for clemency, and prosecutors oppose the new testing. There was no need for Brown to intervene in the case or commute the sentence of any murderer.

In September, Brown heard testimony from five families victimized by juvenile murderers, one a double murder of victims 87 and 76 years old, with torture and hideous mutilation. In a signing statement, Brown said the testimony “weighed on me”—but only after he approved Senate Bill 1391, which bars all prosecution of juveniles as adults, whatever the gravity of their crime.

While approving new incentives for violent criminals, Jerry Brown has made it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to defend themselves.

He approved a batch of new gun laws that raise the age for purchase of rifles and shotguns to 21, allow confiscation of guns in certain cases, and even require a background check for the purchase of ammunition. As Stephen Halbrook showed in Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France, such measures are more characteristic of totalitarian states.

Before leaving office, Brown also pardoned state senator Rod Wright, convicted of felony perjury and voting fraud. Brown also pardoned former state education boss Bill Honig, convicted on felony conflict-of-interest charges during the 1990s. The state supreme court did not challenge Brown’s pardon of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, though Californians could be forgiven for seeing it as an abuse of power. Like Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine) in Being There, Jerry Brown reveals himself to himself, and he is drenched and purged.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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