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April 25, 2009

A simple plea for Prez Obama: grant at least a single clemency in your first 100 days

As evidenced by this Politico feature and this New York Times article, there is already no shortage of buzz and analysis of President Obama's first 100 days.  Let me add my meta-punditry with a spin on the plea that titles this post: media pundits and especially public policy groups that work on sentencing reforms should be calling out President Obama if (and when?) the record of his first 100 days in office does not include a single grant of clemency. 

As this chart from PS Ruckman shows, from the era of Thomas Jefferson through Ronald Reagan, only 3 of 38 US presidents failed to grant any clemencies during their first 100 days.  And yet, while the federal criminal justice system has grown by staggering amounts over the last two decades (see USSC data here), only clemency pleas by cronies seemed to get serious and quick attention from the last three Presidents.  I keep hoping that President Obama's promise of hope and change would apply to this historically important presidential prerogative, but my hope seems ever more false as each week goes by without any mention of these realities.

It will be a sad and telling commentary of the emptiness of the rhetoric of hope and change if President Obama was not able to find — or lacked the interest and courage to try to find — even a single case in the massive federal criminal justice system meriting some kind of clemency relief during his first 100 days in office.  And it will be an even sadder and more telling commentary on the emptiness of modern political and social debate if prominent media pundits and public policy groups — many of whom rightly criticized President Bush for his failure to show compassion toward many requesting clemency — continue to fail to even note President Obama's continued failings in this regard.

I sincerely hope that, as part of the 100-day plans, the Obama team might have at least one single (and thus necessarily symbolic) clemency up its sleeves.  But I am not optimistic that we will see even a single clemency grant by Wednesday or that any prominent media pundits or public policy groups — on either the left or the right — will vocally criticize President Obama in this arena.

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April 25, 2009 at 10:59 AM | Permalink


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Clemency and sentencing reform must be part of this new dialogue. Our War on Drugs has diminished our credibility world wide. Our incarceration rate has made our culture coarse and less civil.
We have become a prison nation which is incompatible with freedom.

Posted by: beth | Apr 25, 2009 11:26:19 AM

I thought change was coming to Washington? Guess not when it comes to Clemency!

Posted by: anon | Apr 25, 2009 12:58:34 PM

Why is the Left begging like this?


Correct. The Rent Seeking Theory. When there is no justification, they will resort to begging to pursue it.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 25, 2009 1:05:26 PM

Since this post includes a plea to higher powers, here is another one: I implore you, ban supremacy claus from posting here ever again, please.

Posted by: Ban Supremacy Claus | Apr 25, 2009 2:08:26 PM

Your plea should come from others. Obama has requested federal workers come up with ideas to save money. I'm sure a couple dozen federal defenders read your work, so maybe they could work it from a more direct angle.

Posted by: Matt | Apr 25, 2009 2:34:03 PM

BSC: Cool name.

No one else than you ever responds. I am being shunned by the criminal cult enterprise. You made my day.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 25, 2009 3:51:11 PM


I'm not sure if the President hasn't already granted a de facto pardons in his stated refusal to prosecute lower-ranking members of the CIA & DIA (and related alphabet agencies) for their actions in the GWoT. By the time Pres. Obama leaves office the statute of limitations will have likely run on any crime committed during the Bush administration's prosecution of the GWoT. I recognize that we all likely have different views on whehter or not the prior administration engaged in violations of domestic and interenational law in the prosecution of the GWoT (I strongly suspect they did).

With that stated, I agree a few grants of clemency, such as to an obscure drug mule or even a high profile felon like a Scooter Libby or Johnny Walker Lindh, would go along way.

As always, speaking just for me. - karl

Posted by: karl | Apr 25, 2009 10:06:03 PM

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