November 19, 2004
It's perhaps a sober reminder of the realities of criminal justice that President Bush's ceremonial pardoning of turkeys received a lot more press than his actual pardoning of people. (As an aside, I cannot help but wonder if Alberto Gonzales wrote clemency memos for Biscuits and Gravy, the pardoned turkeys (background here).)
In any event, as this CNN story details, the President did issue six human pardons this week, all to persons who committed minor frauds long ago. A few more details on some of the persons pardoned can be found here and here.
In response to an e-mail inquiring about these pardons, Margaret Colgate Love who served for twenty years in the US Department of Justice, including seven as US Pardon Attorney under the first President Bush and President Clinton, wrote a brief note detailing President Bush's approach to pardons and commutations during his first term. You can download the full text of Margy Love's note below, and here are some highlights:
Case statistics released last month by the Office of the Pardon Attorney in the Justice Department show that, since assuming office, Bush has granted a total of 25 pardons while he has denied 839 applications. His pardon grant rate is thus about 3% of all requests acted upon. (He has also denied 3,446 commutation requests, and that grant rate has too many zeroes to be meaningful.) By contrast, most Presidents in the past 100 years have granted between 20% and 30% of the pardon applications they considered. (The exception is the first President Bush, whose 76 pardons represented only 11% of the requests he considered, but his low grant rate is because DOJ sent him almost nothing but denial recommendations — I know, I did it! His son doesn't have the same excuse.) The OPA statistics indicate that there are 744 pending applications for pardon still awaiting action (plus 1729 requests for commutation).
All but one of Bush's 25 pardons have been utterly unremarkable, the exception being the deathbed pardon of David McCall, the former mayor of Plano, Texas, who applied on a Wednesday and received his grant on Friday. This is a guy who has definitely decided to play it safe in the compassion department!
UPDATE: Amazingly, the mysterious (and always amusing) Milbarge over at Begging the Question, as detailed here, "obtained a copy of just such a [Gonzales Turkey clemency] memo, apparently written on a 1973 IBM Selectric typewriter."
November 19, 2004 at 06:04 AM | Permalink
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Considering his approach to clemency petitions from real human beings facing execution in Texas, am I being too crabby if I say that I don't find ex-Governor Bush's "pardoning" of a Thanksgiving turkey (however "traditional" the event) the least bit funny? In the hands of this particular administration, it appears to make light both of capital punishment and of the pardon power of the Presidency. If the Adminstration does not actually take either of those serious topics seriously, then the annual "ceremony" seems to take on a different and less amusing cast.
I'd love to see more discussion (from you, Doug, or from Margy Love) on the difference between pardon and commutation, and the heightened significance that commutations should take on in a system of pervasive excessive sentencing driven by mandatory minimums and rigid guidelines.
Posted by: Peter G | Nov 20, 2004 12:24:09 PM
It is so difficult to be just a regular citizen these days, watching the trashing of our beloved country, feeling powerless to intervene. Compassionate conservatism indeed.
Posted by: Jeannie | Nov 20, 2004 11:30:28 PM
a center for equal justice
Posted by: mark | Feb 19, 2006 8:02:46 PM
I ran across your article through Google. We are working on completing The Rehabilitated Project(www.rehabilitated.org) to gather nationwide support for radical changes to how the formerly condemned are treated. The compassion many lawyers feel for the condemned was not understood by me before my issues with the United States. Oftentimes it takes getting hit on the head to become aware of the hammer's dangers. So it was with me. The utter lack of rehabilitative procedures for United States citizens is appalling. We intend to help change this and make a person's civility and good works after a conviction count for something by seeking to provide a new way, a new life, a new beginning. Come to www.rehabilitated.org and take a look - we're a work in progress - but you'll get the picture quickly.
Posted by: Charles Benninghoff | Feb 10, 2007 7:27:25 PM
Posted by: | Oct 14, 2008 6:19:52 AM