Earl Ofari Hutchinson

*The instant the Georgia Pardons and Paroles Board turned thumbs down on clemency for Troy Davis, the quiet murmurs grew to a crescendo in some quarters that President Obama should speak out on the pending Davis execution.

Filmmaker Michael Moore went even further and mused that Obama should make like President Eisenhower and take federal action to stop the execution.

Moore was referring to Ike’s sending in the troops to quell racial rioting and enforce the federal court order ordering desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957. Ike, of course, had the federal power and authority to take action precisely because it was a federal court order.

The Davis horror was a state matter, prosecuted by a local district attorney, tried in state courts, and grotesquely settled by the state pardons and parole board. Obama had absolutely no legal power to intervene in the Davis case.

But that only quashes the misunderstanding of the law about Obama’s powers. It doesn’t answer the question whether Obama, as former President Jimmy Carter did, had the moral obligation to have expressed doubt or misgiving about the pending execution. The heartbreaking and painful answer is no. As much as we would have cheered the president if he had broken political protocol and weighed in on the Davis execution, it wasn’t going to happen.

Obama, as all sitting presidents, doesn’t take positions on controversial state issues, and that’s the key. They are state issues, and to interfere is to step into a political minefield that would do far more harm than good.

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