When he took office, Grits considered it notable that Abbott had never spoken publicly on the topic, and one year in it's clearly only barely on his radar screen, even though it's one of only a handful of core duties of the office. As Attorney General, his office had ruled the governor could issue posthumous pardons, but beyond that we know little of Abbott's opinions on clemency. No reporter has ever asked him, to my knowledge, or if they did they didn't publish the quotes.
As such, we have answers to only a few of the questions Grits offered up a year ago before Greg Abbott ascended to the governorship:
One also wonders as pardon season approaches about Greg Abbott and what his clemency policy will look like as governor. Rick Perry rejected two thirds of positive recommendations he received from his appointees on the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Will Greg Abbott approve them at higher rates? What instructions will he give BPP appointees on clemency? What questions related to clemency will his staff ask potential BPP appointees during the vetting process? Might he be willing to revisit clemency requests which were approved by the BPP but rejected or never acted upon by Rick Perry? Will Gov. Abbott treat clemency as an ongoing, year-round executive function or limit pardon announcements to a few, symbolic Christmas-time public relations gambits? Nobody ever asked the governor-elect any of these questions on the campaign trail so I guess we must wait and see.Most of those questions remain unanswered, though Abbott ending the year with this niggardly batch of four under-the-radar pardons three days before Christmas doesn't bode well.
In this vein, Stateline has an interesting new article (1/6) titled, "Move Is On To Make End-Of-Year Pardons Less Random" which offered the following overview of state-level clemency:
Only 15 states, including Arkansas and California, grant frequent and regular pardons, to more than 30 percent of applicants, according to the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, a nonprofit that promotes public discussion of the lasting effects of conviction. The largest group — 21 states, including Kansas, Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as the District of Columbia —provided few or no pardons in the past 20 years. Nine states have a regular pardon process but grant clemency to just a small percentage of those who ask for it, and five states — Louisiana, Maine, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin — grant pardons only infrequently, depending on the governor.But not in Texas, at least not yet.
But several governors and state legislatures have moved in recent months to make the clemency process easier and pardons more frequent, reflecting a growing consensus that harsh mandatory minimum sentences have left too many Americans behind bars.
“I do see a wave of mercy rolling across the country,” said P.S. Ruckman Jr., who teaches political science and runs a clemency blog, pardonpower.com. “Over the last 10 years, governors erred on the side of caution, and did nothing” to grant clemency or pardons, Ruckman said. “Increasingly that mindset is changing.”
This could change. Abbott could direct the Board of Pardons and Paroles to be more aggressive about finding clemency candidates and choose future appointees with that goal partly in mind. (Rick Perry, by contrast, declined two-thirds of his own appointees' recommendations.) But it's easier and safer to do nothing, so that's the most likely outcome.
See prior, related Grits posts: