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February 10, 2009

Washington Post urges Prez Obama to do better on clemency

I was pleased to just discover that the Washington Post had this editorial yesterday that echoes my calls for President Obama to make better and more prominent use of his clemency power.  The editorial is headlined "A Need for Mercy: President Obama should not replicate his predecessor's sad track record on pardons," and here are excerpts:

Mr. Bush's legacy on pardons will be shaped largely by what he failed to do. Mr. Bush pardoned 189 inmates and commuted the sentences of 11 others -- the stingiest record compiled by any two-term president since World War II.... Perhaps after the term-ending fiascos of the Clinton administration, which gave us the notorious pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, it is not hard to understand why a president might shy away from using the pardon power. Perhaps this explains Mr. Bush's failure to act on a whole host of cases.

President Obama should muster such courage when a failure to act allows the perpetuation of injustices that cannot be remedied elsewhere. Those decisions must be informed by the facts of the case and not governed by the political connections or financial contributions of the applicant. Mercy, as Shakespeare wrote, is the gift twice blessed, but that is true only if it is given freely and only on the merits.

Though President Obama and his team have been busy with other priorities, it remains notable and disappointing that he has now been in office a full three weeks and has not yet used his clemency power.  As P.S.Ruckman has effectively documented here, history shows that the majority of presidents were able to find the time to grant a few clemencies within the first few weeks in office. 

President Abraham Lincoln, who had to deal with a brewing civil war, granted a clemency before the end of his fourth full week in office.  I hope (but do not expect) that President Obama and his team will look to follow in Lincoln's path here and find the time for a few symbolic clemency grants.

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February 10, 2009 at 07:52 AM | Permalink


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