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May 8, 2012

Noting President Obama's (still) stingy clemency record

The folks at MSNBC has this new piece, headlined "President Obama 'stingy' on pardons, says clemency expert," which includes data that are familiar to regular readers. Here are excerpts:

President Barack Obama is on track to be one of the least forgiving of presidents in U.S. history — as measured by his use of presidential pardon powers, according to a political science professor who blogs about clemency exercised by presidents and governors.

"It is fair to say two things," said P.S. Ruckman Jr., who teaches at Rock Valley College in Rockville, Ill. "One is (Obama) is definitely being exceptionally stingy. There’s no doubt about that. There’s also no doubt that this is in a way unexpected."

As president, Obama has pardoned 23 people, including one commuted sentence, in his first 40 months in office. Barring a dramatic flurry of clemency from the White House in the coming eight months, Obama will be among the bottom two or three presidents for granting pardons in his first term, Ruckman said....

While campaigning for office, Obama was critical of the mandatory minimum penalties for drugs, especially those that specified much heavier sentences for those using crack cocaine than to the ones associated with more expensive powder cocaine. Mandatory minimums, which emerged in the 1980s, are partially responsible for swelling federal prison populations — to 218,261 on the week of May 3, compared to 24,363 in 1980, according to government documents.

In April 2010, the president signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which aimed to even out the mandatory minimums, which critics say are discriminatory to African Americans. But Obama did not — as some expected or hoped — go on to throw open the doors for large numbers of people incarcerated under the old mandatory sentences....

Obama could step it up in the last quarter. Historically, presidents do tend to grant more pardons in the fourth quarter of each year, especially the fourth quarter of the final year in the term, Ruckman said.  Among recent presidents, George W. Bush had granted 37 pardons and commutations at about this point in his first term. By the end of the year, he had added another 32....

Obama may also be reserving acts of clemency for his second term, if he gets one. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both granted many more pardons in their second terms than they did in their first....  But none of these recent presidents comes close to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the use of pardon power. He granted about 600 pardons and commutations by the end of his first term, and about 2,800 over the course of his historic 12 years in office (1933-1945) before the two-term limit went into effect.

But even among modern presidents, Obama's current pace keeps him firmly among the most conservative American presidents to use these powers of forgiveness.  The average age of individuals pardoned by Obama is about 61, according to Ruckman and the average time between the original sentence and executive clemency granted by this president is 24.3 years.

May 8, 2012 at 11:18 PM | Permalink


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Why should he pardon anyone, only to be beaten over head by the Republicans? Maybe in the second term.

Posted by: Dave from Texas | May 8, 2012 11:26:37 PM

Dave from Texas --

"Why should he pardon anyone, only to be beaten over head by the Republicans?"

Who was beating whom over the head when Bush merely commuted the sentence of (but did not pardon) Scooter Libby? This was even though Libby was the proverbial first-time, non-violent offender. The Dems wanted Bush's scalp. Did you stand up then and seek bi-partisan understanding?

The direct answer to your question is that Obama should pardon those who plainly deserve it on the merits. If he doesn't have the guts to do that, that's on him, not on the Republicans. Wasn't this going to be about Hope and Change?

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 9, 2012 12:34:39 PM

'Bush merely commuted the sentence of (but did not pardon) Scooter Libby?'

that act utterly reeked of political favoritism and cronyism...just smells to high heaven

Posted by: Grant | May 9, 2012 7:40:04 PM

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