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March 2, 2009

Still awaiting some hope and change on the clemency front

President Obama is about to begin his sixth week in office still without having made any use of his clemency powers.  P.S. Ruckman in this post notes that this means the new guy "is already among the slowest presidents to tend to this constitutional duty."  As Ruckman notes, the vast majority of Presidents have used their clemency power within their first month in office.

As I have said before and as I will surely say again, the failure of modern presidents to use their clemency power actively is especially troubling because the federal criminal justice system in now so much larger than during any other period in American history.  Especially in light of the potent new Pew Center report documenting the scope and costs of modern criminal justice control throughout the United States (details here and here), it would be especially valuable and important for President Obama to get moving with at least a few symbolic clemencies to back up his oft-stated commitment to hope and change.

Some recent related posts:

March 2, 2009 at 11:51 PM | Permalink


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In what way is clemency a duty? While we thankfully haven't seen it on a large scale I can easily see a president believing that such power exists simply to protect cronies while completely ignoring unsolicited applications.

Duty implies obligation, which I just don't see existing in the clemency arena.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Mar 3, 2009 10:09:13 AM

I share your instinctual reaction to the use of the term "duty" in this context, Soronel. That said, I think it is fair to say that the Framers gave the president a duty to consider pardon/clemency requests, even though he may not have a duty to grant any such requests. Though I do not want to speak for P.S. Ruckman, I am inclined to defend the idea that Presidents have an obligation to at least respond to clemency requests, even if the response ends up being a formal rejection of all requests.

Posted by: Doug B. | Mar 3, 2009 10:45:49 AM

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