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December 18, 2007

Should never granting a pardon be a point of political pride?

As documented here, now running in Iowa is a TV spot from the campaign of Mitt Romney that attacks Mike Huckabee for being soft on meth offenses and for granting over 1000 pardons and commutations while Governor of Arkansas.  The ad also states, as an apparent point of pride, that former Governor Romney "never pardoned a single criminal."  Interestingly, the Huckabee campaign has issued this official response to the ad, which includes this notable discussion of clemency issues:

Some Governors are content to simply deny the vast majority of clemency applications without bothering to consider their merit. Governor Huckabee, however, believed that respect for the legal process required that he give them the consideration for which they were entitled....

Very rarely does the public oppose a clemency because almost all are granted for minor offenses, involve reductions in fines, or reduced prison sentences that were longer than the average for a particular crime....

Before the mainstream use of background checks, most people could have some youthful arrest, change their lives and become good, tax-paying citizens without that earlier arrest coming back to haunt them. Governor Huckabee found during his time in office that each year the number of people needing clemency to clear their record increased. Denying their request prevented them from continuing to earn a good living and pay taxes. The majority of the clemency requests he granted were for this reason.

I find the effort of the Romney campaign to make political hay out of clemency issues especially interesting in light of the significant Republican call for pardons for Lewis Libby and for the Border Agents.  Also, the ad indirectly suggests that Romney hopes to bring more attention to Huckabee's "Willie Horton" problem in the form of Wayne Dumond, the rapist paroled in Arkansas when Huckabee was governor who murdered a woman after being released (background here and here).

As I have suggested before, various crime and punishment issues will surely play some role in the heated 2008 Presidential campaign.  I am hopeful (though not especially optimistic) that excessive tough-on-crime demagoguery by particular candidates will backfire as the general public becomes more informed and balanced in their understanding of a range of criminal justice issues.

December 18, 2007 at 02:24 AM | Permalink


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I find it curious that Romney is a lawyer, and used to be quite proud of the fact, too. He seems to be abandoning it in this campaign, but I guess that is how he figures that the kind of the people that would vote for him think.

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 18, 2007 7:09:41 AM

It appears that of all of the candidates, Huckabee has had the most generous record in terms of pardons. So does Doug support him for prez?

I also wonder how much of Huckabee's Christian faith plays into the mix. If it is the case that his faith led him to pardon so many, what does that say about the stereotype that fundamental Christians are vengeful, unforgiving hypocrites?

Posted by: | Dec 18, 2007 8:49:48 AM

Dec 18, 2007 8:49:48 AM: Since you asked, I will say that I have thought througout 2007 that, on the Republican side, candidates Huckabee and Brownback (who's now out) had the most encouraging records and rhetoric on sentencing issues. Because I am not a single-issue voter, this fact alone does not make me a Huckabee supporter.

Relatedly, I think it is not surprising that the most religiously-oriented candidates tend to be the most impressive on some criminal sentencing issues because they take especially seriously the human potential of reform and redemption.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 18, 2007 8:55:59 AM

Interesting thoughts. Though I can't say that I am at all surprised by the lack of intellectual consistency from a conservative (i.e., Romney proudly touting his record of no pardons, while yet surely also supporting the commutation of Libby & some sort of pardon/commutation for justice-obstructing, free-shooting border agent goons). Just shocking really.

Just like how George Bush will often tell you of the harm done by government handouts, while happily sitting on a fortune provided by the taxpayers of Arlington, TX, who financed the construction a ballpark for the Texas Rangers.

Posted by: Sentencing Observer | Dec 18, 2007 9:16:37 AM

Clemancy should be regulary employed, particularly so when our incarceration rate continues to climb what appears to be an endless ladder --maybe Jacob's ladder.
The ability of our leaders to demonstrate executive compassion through merciful sentence reductions (for offenses which far too often carry an overlong term of imprisonment) should not be abridged. Fairness. Equal protection of laws. The United States: a government by the people -for the people. Those incarcerated are part of the "people" as well as those with freedom.

Visit me on the web at: www.anti-nova-nsu.org
Ronald Lee Humphreys v. Nova Southeastern University,
Case No. 06-001897(12); Judge Dorian K. Damoorgian

RL Humphreys

Posted by: Ronald Humphreys | Dec 18, 2007 10:03:13 AM

Doug, your post is far too snarky. First of all, the pardon of Libby (who, at the end of the day, was convicted of a political crime) has an infinitesimal risk to the society. So there is no Republican hypocrisy here. Moreover, Huckabee's pardons, some of which have a bit of the whiff of Clinton's end of term pardons, taken as a whole clearly create issues of public safety. Huckabee tries to obscure that issue by pointing to his "good" pardons. Huckabee helped Dumond, and that got people killed (Huckabee's lies about having no influence notwithstanding). Dumond's penchant for violence was foreseeable, yet Huckabee wanted to risk innocent people. Dumond NEVER should have been released.

Romney's ad probably isn't as sophisticated as it should be, but it's hard to get everything in a soundbite.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 18, 2007 10:16:41 AM

federalist: are you suggesting that the Republican "party line" on clemency is to grant if and when there is an "infinitesimal risk to the society"? I think many state and federal defendants would be the grateful beneficiaries of such an approach to the exercise of clemency power.

Relatedly, what exactly is "too snarky" about this post? The post mostly relates the facts of the Romney-Huck fight on clemency issues AND it reminds everyone that some of the most vocal 2007 calls for the exercise of the pardon authority have come from very prominent Republican officials.

I only ask because lately it seems that some commentors are more interested in complaining about my perceived snark or hand-wringing than in discussing legal intricacies. I try to keep my tone in check (while never censoring my views and opinions about the issues I cover here).

What exactly is "snarky" about this post?

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 18, 2007 11:10:44 AM

federalist, why is lying to federal agents a "political crime"?

I think that's an honest-to-god, actual crime, and its perpetrators often do hard time in this country. A certain Mr. Rita can attest to that.

Amazing how confident you are in your own intuitions & so happy to disregard the work of the justice system & a jury when the prosecuted person is a political ally. Shocking that you never have any such doubts about the legitimacy of the processes used to convict those whom the state plans to kill. Has it ever crossed your mind that occasionally a sheriff or DA -- elected officials, trying to please the public & keep their jobs -- occasionally trump up evidence against a convenient scapegoat to nail down a conviction? Evidently not, otherwise your bloodlust for the state killing its citizens would likely be somewhat tempered.

Posted by: Sentencing Observer | Dec 18, 2007 11:25:08 AM

I was unaware that the criminal code had an section on "political crimes". Where can I find this?

Posted by: | Dec 18, 2007 12:05:51 PM

"Clemancy should be regulary employed, particularly so when our incarceration rate continues to climb what appears to be an endless ladder"

This is a non sequitur. You do the crime you do the time is a simple counter to this argument.

That said, I must commend Doug B. for this blog since he allows (and seems to care) what dissenting voices have to say. Thus, I agree with Doug that redemption needs to be a part of our criminal justice philosophy. The issue, however, is how shall this be done? How do we know when someone has repented from their crimes. More importantly in my mind, how can we achieve this goal without religion? I'm being serious here: Do we really think that "program" are going to do it?

Posted by: | Dec 18, 2007 1:19:58 PM

Doug, good thoughts on this topic. I hate this idea that commutations should be minimalistic and risk free--since when? For one thing, granting clemency to anyone (regardless of the crime) carries a risk that the person will reoffend--anyone who reads recidivism statistics should know that. But I think there is a power in forgiveness that is often overlooked--people who are forgiven are usually grateful for it and don't want to let down the people who supported their efforts to get clemency. Many of the Clinton commutees have gone on to lead productive lives and have not reoffended. Mitt Romney's refusal to pardon/commute is disturbing because it reveals a character flaw--do we really want an unforgiving president? What's he gonna do when we need to make up with the leader of another nation (say, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, etc., etc., etc.) we've injured (or who has injured us)? Diplomacy requires the ability to forgive. In addition, we live in such a punitive, inflexible criminal justice system that clemency is quickly becoming the only viable option for many to get a fair sentence. I, for one, would rather swollow some of the risk and have a forgiving leader than one who abuses his clemency power--by not using it.

Posted by: M | Dec 18, 2007 1:26:04 PM

I think I lean toward Doug B. in so far as the rhetoric is concerned and that, after all, is what he was focusing on. Why brag about not using the pardon power? It is an important check and balance for heaven's sake. Why not complain that there was no opportunity to use it instead? Why condemn someone else for using it X number of times? Is the point that no one EVER deserves a pardon? Are we to guess Huckabee was wrong EVERY time he used the power?

If I were Huckabee, I would dig up the most repentent, sympathetic, good looking, rehabilitated clemency recipient that I could find, surround him/her with a community of friends, loved ones, neighbors, religious leaders (Mormons perhaps) and use him/her in a mushy mind-numbing TV commercial ... "Thank God I did not live in Massachusetts."

Romney is burning down the house to roast the pig.

Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Dec 18, 2007 5:00:30 PM

you keep avoiding the fact that you made a stupid comment. just say you made a stupid comment and lets move on. you will never admit the doj is out of control just as you will never admit your comment was out of line.
PS yes the US attorneys do seek the max every time look at the Black Case they wanted 15 to 25 years and basically the judge laughed them out of court.

Posted by: | Dec 18, 2007 8:52:48 PM

oh yea i fogot the us attorney didnt seek the max for those border guards who were protecting the country. he didnt seek the max? that us attorney is a coward he talks tough saying it is congress who picked the sentence he could have structured everything differently. lets see him go and patrol the borders and see how tough he is he is real tough with a pen

Posted by: | Dec 18, 2007 8:55:18 PM

Libby was part of a criminal conspiracy that intentionally outed a CIA person. The risks to other human beings as a direct and proximate result of these crimes is obvious. Every person in a foreign country who had a conversation or who had some business relationship, or a friendship, with Valerie Plame, could be tortured or killed by some foreign intelligence agency. This was not a 'political crime' merely because these criminals put Plame and these folks out there at risk in order to advance their political agenda of covering up their lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

If Mitt Romney has favored a pardon for Scooter Libby then his reasons need to be carefully examined.

Posted by: M.P. Bastian | Dec 20, 2007 5:01:48 AM

"If Mitt Romney has favored a pardon for Scooter Libby then his reasons need to be carefully examined."

It's ok to bragged about not pardoning anybody during his term as governor but he'd favored pardoning Scooter. Wow, now we know the type of people he reserves his pardon power for.....

Posted by: | Dec 20, 2007 12:01:37 PM

the post was snarky due to the use of the term "interesting". Doug, you're a smart guy--do you really think that Romney is somehow bound, when talking about Huck's clemencies for criminals, by GOP calls for Scooter's pardon or for pardoning a couple of border patrol officers?

Posted by: federalist | Dec 21, 2007 5:00:28 PM

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