Monday, August 19, 2013

So much for second chances: Pardons plummet under Obama

Almost nobody seems to care that presidential pardons and commutations under Barack Obama have fallen to appallingly low rates, making him perhaps the least merciful president in American history. A recent op ed in the Washington Post concluded:
Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers: “The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel.” Hamilton knew giving that power to one person could tempt him to be too forgiving, or too cruel, and end up making him too cautious for fear of criticism, but he argued that “humanity and good policy” would prevail and show “that the benign prerogative of pardoning should be as little as possible fettered or embarrassed.”

So far, Obama has done little to justify Hamilton’s optimism. He has granted just 39 pardons and only one commutation, while denying more than 6,700 petitions. In his first term, Ronald Reagan signed more than 10 times as many pardons and commutations as Obama did (250 vs. 23); George H.W. Bush more than three times as many (77); and Bill Clinton more than twice as many (56). The “easy access” that Hamilton envisioned has nearly disappeared.

In January 2010, Obama said that “one of the great things about America is that we give people second chances.” He could do just that by ordering a special review of the thousands of clemency applications at the Justice Department and White House that are growing older by the day, and by commuting the sentences of offenders of all races that are too severe, like those for the five serving life terms without hope of parole for nonviolent offenses. The Founders gave the president the pardon power for good reason; Obama has not only the right, but also the duty, to use it.
Following up, Peter Ruckman at Pardon Power posted this excellent chart putting Obama's no-pardon policy in historical perspective. E.g., Richard Nixon granted a third of all pardon and commutation applications; Obama has granted one out of every 239.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

President Obama is criticized by regressives for every little thing he does. Possible he is just waiting until the end of his term to sign off on pardons in order that he quells a bit of the hate from the right. Personally, I'd probably do the same.

Force Majeure said...

I don't think Obama is afraid of criticism, that's pretty much at the max now and isn't going to change. Nevertheless his admitted past personal drug use and general progressive philosophy makes his stinginess on pardons and sentencing reform hard to understand.

Kudos to Eric Holder, the most corrupt AG in history, to at least put forward the notions of drug law enforcement reform.

Unfortunately the odd combination most likely only demonstrates the dysfunction of the administration.

Anonymous said...

I see each president pardoning fewer people as the campaign machine goes full time, with well-funded partisans ready to attack any possible mistake. I'm willing to guess the next president will pardon as few or fewer.

Alan said...

Obama is clearly being advised to avoid merciful pardon and commutation policies for fear of incurring criticism.This trend, as Ruckman's chart shows, is well established, a symptom of the punitive consensus that controls American public policy. Hopefully, Holder's remarks signal an impending shift in approach.

Vincent van Gogh said...

I don't think Obama burns to many brain cells even thinking about pardons. There are to many other situations that effect his political standing. Which after all is his only real concern. If he thought granting pardons would garner political favor he would be on it. Since doing nothing is the safe bet that is the policy. Obama never governs he only campaigns.

Anonymous said...

A "second" chance? Have you seen their rap sheet?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Have you, 6:26? Seems unlikely.

Vincent van Gogh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vincent van Gogh said...

Grits your response is a weak one.

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