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November 4, 2016

Another week and another big batch of clemencies from Prez Obama

As this new USA Today article highlights, "President Obama's decision to grant 72 more commutations Friday — just before getting on Air Force One for a two-city campaign tour of North Carolina — shows how far he's gone in his efforts to "reinvigorate" the pardon process." Here is more:

Just a year ago, it might have been unthinkable for a president to use his constitutional power to shorten sentences so close to an election, regardless of who's on the ballot. "Commutations a week before an election? That's a wow factor of 10!" said P.S. Ruckman Jr., a political scientist who has studied, among other things, the timing of presidential clemency.

Obama has now granted 170 commutations in just the past eight days, bringing the total for his presidency to 944. It's the largest number of commutations in any single year in history, and represents an exceptional "surge" in the president's clemency power in his last year.

"What President Obama has done for commutations is unprecedented in the modern era." White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement. "The president is committed to reinvigorating the clemency authority, demonstrating that our nation is a nation of second chances, where mistakes from the past will not deprive deserving individuals of the opportunity to rejoin society and contribute to their families and communities."

Most of Obama's pardons have been through his clemency initiative, which seeks to reduce the long mandatory-minimum sentences meted out under sentencing guidelines from the late 1980s through the 2000s....

The frequency with which Obama is now granting commutations has encouraged some advocates who had been urging the president to "vastly increase the pace" of the effort. "The Obama administration has said it was committed to ever more grants, and it seems quite clear that the president’s actions are matching his words," said Cynthia Roseberry, the manager for Clemency Project 2014, a coalition of lawyers working on commutation cases to present to the president....

Of the 72 commutations granted Friday, 17 were for inmates serving life sentences.

November 4, 2016 at 05:11 PM | Permalink


Interesting to hear a final thought about this issue in January, especially since he has received some criticism.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 4, 2016 10:23:03 PM

It will be interesting to see how many of these guys stay on the straight and narrow. My guess is that the vast majority prove to have justified Obama's trust. Where Obama deserves criticism (along with the lapdog media) is the description of the clemency grants. Many of these guys were serious criminals and had a history of violence, and that fact was obscured by some disinformation. When pressed, the Obama Administration tried to spin the issue as being the latest conviction, not the criminal history.

It's also interesting to juxtapose the Obama WH's stated anti-gun positions with the clemencies granted to gun criminals. Th hypocrisy is manifest.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 6, 2016 8:48:59 AM

As a general supporter of robust clemency powers, federalist, I would love to see how you would "ghost write" a statement along with the commutations. What kind of phrases and candor would lead to your praise rather than criticisms if they accompanied these kinds of grants?

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 6, 2016 10:51:26 AM

I would state that some of the clemencies were simply to correct manifestly unjust sentences. I would say that many of these guys had serious records but that the sentences involved were just too harsh in light of changes in the sentencing regime.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 6, 2016 11:52:25 AM

If you look at the list of clemency grantees, you will see that nearly all involve drug offenders and the vast majority are from the South and Midwest. I scanned the list of the hundred or so grants made in the last two rounds this morning and found one from a conviction in Massachusetts, no others from the Northwest, none from the West Coast. Is this because there is no serious crime in the Northeast and in the States bordering on the Pacific? I think not. To answer my own question, it seems to be because judges and (yes) prosecutors have recognized the absurdity of some of the sentences that are possible, no, "advsied," or, if the prosecutor so chooses, mandated under federal law, and have adopted reasonable sentencing approaches. In the broader sense, then, Obama's clemency grant process may be seen in retrospect as having the effect of evening out regional sentencing disparities. (PS, I'm from Washington State, so I may be biased.)

Posted by: Late Inning Relief | Nov 8, 2016 3:34:24 PM

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