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.”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.
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.
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: