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October 26, 2009

Notable press stories noting Obama's lack of clemency action

It is sad, annoying and telling that the mainstream American press is now talking about President Obama's failure to pardon the long dead boxer Jack Johnson (see here and here), rather than about his failure to grant a single clemency to a live person more than nine months into his Term.  P.S. Ruckman has this definitive post on this topic, which concludes this way:

The power to forgive is not a matter of sport, and should not be the fodder of publicity hounds or the passing pet project of Hollywood elites.  The clemency power should used to address the real-life punishments and disabilities of the living.  It should not be reduced to (or confused with) a mechanism to mollify the whims of unrelated parties decades after the end of a life -- and, of course, all meaningful punishment and disability.  While it may make members of Congress feel good about themselves to pat each other on the back, after the fact, for a feigned accomplishment, our prisons continue to hold individuals who deserve freedom (or at least a chance at freedom), and our society has citizens who have long since fulfilled the requirements of justice yet continue to feel the sting of punishment.  Mr. President, they deserve your attention first.

Valuably, the media across the pond link the Jack Johnson story to the broader story of President Obama's failure to grant any clemencies to date in this article from The Sunday Times.  Here is one snippet from that piece:

The omission [in exercising the clemency power] may partly be due to a bureaucratic breakdown in the Justice Department, which is responsible for recommending presidential action in clemency cases. Legal scholars also suspect that Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, is implacably imposed to any initiative that might be criticised as softness on crime.

“Pardoning used to be considered a part of the routine housekeeping business of the presidency and hundreds of grants were made every year, without fanfare, to ordinary people,” said Margaret Colgate Love, a lawyer specialising in clemency requests.  “But the system broke down in the Clinton administration and the Justice Department’s pardon office has become a place where petitions for presidential mercy go to die.”

Some related posts on clemency:

October 26, 2009 at 12:03 AM | Permalink


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The days when clemency was issued routinely are dead and gone. Pardons (other than trivial ones) come at too high a political price. It is simply not worth it for a president to invest his political capital in pardons, when he can spend it on initiatives that are more important to the electorate.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Oct 26, 2009 9:07:13 AM

Marc --

One thing we have no way of knowing is how many pardon requests have been reviewed and rejected on the merits. Simply because no pardons have been issued at the nine month stage does not necessarily mean that none have been thoughtfully considered.

Beyond that, it's hard to disagree with your post as stated. I would, however, amend the last line to read, "...that are more important to HIM." This is especially true of Obama, who seems to have a better idea of what he wants to do with his Presidency than anyone since Reagan.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 27, 2009 11:41:28 PM

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