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However, congressional Democrats and some outside activists praised Mr. Obama’s clemency shift as long overdue.

“Too many people — particularly people of color — have been locked up for far too long for nonviolent offenses,” said Vanita Gupta, the American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director.

Democratic Reps. Bobby Scott of Virginia and John Conyers of Michigan called the clemency plan “a matter of civil rights and basic justice.” “The Department of Justice’s decision to expand and expedite the clemency process has the potential to assist thousands of non-violent offenders serving lengthy sentences behind bars who would not be serving such lengthy terms under sentencing laws today,” they said in a joint statement.