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January 29, 2009

Historical evidence that it is NOT too early to start demanding clemencies from President Obama

Over at the Pardon Power, P.S. Ruckman has two amazing posts here and here detailing for all the Presidents "the number of days between inauguration or the assumption of office (via death or resignation) and their very first pardon as President of the United States."  The data show that President Obama is already on the verge of being behind the historical curve: roughly half of all Presidents granted their first pardons within their first two weeks in office

Of course, 100 days is a widely-used marker for the Presidential honeymoon, and the data show that all but eight Presidents granted clemency within the first 100 days.  Disappointingly, even as the federal criminal justice system has grown enormously over the last two decade, three presidents who have been among the slowest in using this power of mercy were President Clinton and both Presidents Bush.  So much for feeling others pain or 1000 points of light or compassionate conservatism from the recent residents on the Oval Office.

As I have suggested before and will say again and again, I will only be a true believer in "hope" and "change" if and when President Obama changes the ugly realities that now surround clemency by starting to use the power to remedy true federal criminal injustices as the Framers intended.

Some recent related posts:

January 29, 2009 at 10:30 AM | Permalink


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So if President Obama doesn't hop to it on your timetable, you won't be a true believer? Ok got it.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 29, 2009 11:23:37 AM

And he could start by commuting the sentence of Victor Rita, the iraq war veteran convicted on a trumped up charge of lying to a grand jury (like Scooter Libby) whose service and heroism was at least as meritorious as Libby's, and whose sentence Justice Stevens has already opined to be excessive (if not sufficiently unreasonable to warrant reversal).

Posted by: hd | Jan 29, 2009 11:24:30 AM

I thought Bush granted clemencies to all the 'injustices.' You mean there are other law enforcement officers who shot unarmed individuals and then tried to cover it up who need clemency?

I believe there are likely thousands of federal injustices that need cleaning up through the clemency power, many of which are the result of mandatory sentencing laws. Obama should work to remedy these instances soon. Yet, if the border agents' sentences weren't commuted, Congress might have actually realized the problem with such mandatory sentencing. But, now everything is okay because the covering-up law enforcement agents are no longer in prison.

By the way, federalist, I don't read the phrase "if and when" to demand a timetable, although expecting the correction of injustices to occur sooner rather than later is quite reasonable.

Posted by: DEJ | Jan 29, 2009 11:49:20 AM

If looking to the past for presidents to emulate, should one choose Millard Fillmore, James K. Polk, and Andrew Johnson (in the short-time list) or should one choose George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, and Franklin Roosevelt (in the long-time list)?

The correct answer, IHMO, is neither. Times and circumstances change, and what presidents did in the past under different circumstances is no guide.

Was there anyone convicted of a federal offense for George Washington to pardon in 1789, even if he wanted to?

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jan 29, 2009 2:20:35 PM

The End of the Whiskey Rebellion

In late October 1794, the Federalized militia entered the western counties of Pennsylvania and sought out the whiskey rebels. By mid-November, the militia had arrested 150 rebels, including 20 prominent leaders of the insurrection. Under the President's authority, General Lee issued a general pardon on November 29th for all those who taken part "in the wicked and unhappy tumults and disturbances lately existing" with the exception of 33 men named in the document. [9] While most of the militia returned home, a regiment occupied the area until the following spring, and organized opposition to the tax evaporated. (emphasis added)

Posted by: George | Jan 29, 2009 3:21:39 PM

Yes, George, we know about the second term. That was in Ruckman's post. My question was whether there was anyone he possibly could have pardoned early in his first term.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jan 29, 2009 4:08:26 PM

Were there offenses against the US under the old articles of confederation?

Posted by: federalist | Jan 29, 2009 4:20:15 PM

The question of the very first pardon is an interesting one. It is common to see authors suggesting the Whiskey Rebels were the first, then throwing out three different years for it. But Microfilm Set T967 (National Archives) suggests there were at least 7 individual pardons before all of that. I have long dated the first at 4/15/1794 (David Blair) because that is the first to appear in the Microfilm. In addition, I have since observed that Humbert (in a footnote) identifies Blair's pardon as the first as well. It is my understanding the Mr. Lardner may have a different angle on the subject though, which he will share with us all one day. Best,

Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Jan 29, 2009 6:50:47 PM

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