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January 26, 2009

When will President Obama start acting like President Lincoln when it comes to the clemency power?

This CNN reporthighlights that President Obama is already moving fast during his second work week, having already "signed a memorandum Monday requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider an application by California to set more stringent auto emissions and fuel efficiency."  In addition, as detailed at this official page, President Obama has already acted on abortion issues, ethics issues and GITMO/terror war issues.  In light of all this activity, I think it is now no longer too soon to start complaining about the new President's failure to start using his clemency power.

As noted hereby PS Ruckman, President Lincoln was proactive in his use of the clemency power, and there is every reasons for the new President to consider following his lead:

Despite the fact that he was riding thin electoral support and had a Civil War on his hands, Abraham Lincoln took the time and, to some extent, the political risk, to grant pardons to almost 400 individuals in just over four years [which is] more than both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush combined granted in a full twelve years....

Because President Lincoln frequently provided multiple explanations for his clemency decisions, we know that he considered a wide range of factors in granting these pardons but especially: good behavior during confinement, a penitent disposition, first time offenses and the youth of offenders. Scholars have noted Lincoln "thrived on the hope that each request he granted further educated a portion of the public as to the necessity of a clemency power in the justice system."  With hundreds of thousands of Americans in our prisons, and thousands of applications for clemency piled up in the Department of Justice, we believe the Nation is long over-due for this side of Abraham Lincoln to re-emerge in the White House.

Even a poor math student can figure out that granting 400 pardons in four years work out to an average of 1 or 2 clemency grants each and every week.  FDR, another famed President often mentioned these day, granted, on average, more than 5 clemencies per week throughout all his years in the White House.  So, if President Obama really wants to follow in wise presidential footsteps, he ought to get moving on clemencies ASAP.

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January 26, 2009 at 11:50 AM | Permalink


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I believe that people misunderstand Obama and he is a lot more conservative than people think. I would be surprised if he grants any pardons in the first year of his Presidency.

Posted by: Daniel | Jan 26, 2009 12:01:18 PM

Far be it from me to defend Obama, but don't you think the guy has some serious fish to fry now, and things like a vigorous clemency program may be a distraction?

Posted by: federalist | Jan 26, 2009 12:11:16 PM

Comparing the number of clemencies granted by different presidents in very different times under very different circumstances seems beyond pointless to me.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jan 26, 2009 12:23:22 PM

I would say that it is always too early to demand that the president perform any discretionary act. Complain loud, long and vociferously, but that "demand" is simply wrong.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jan 26, 2009 1:34:15 PM

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