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September 2, 2021

Realizing that Prez Biden is now officially behind Prez Trump's clemency pace

Gearing up for this awesome series of panels later this month on "The Future of the President’s Pardon Power: 2021 Clemency Panel Series," and particularly thinking about Prez Trump's record for this first panel on "Donald Trump’s Theatre of Pardoning," it dawned on me that it was around this time in 2017 that Prez Trump issued his very first clemency grant.  Specifically, as noted in this post, on August 25, 2017, President Donald Trump pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  

Fast forward four years, and we are now into September of the first year with President Biden in the oval Office and he has not yet used his clemency pen one single time.  Being behind Prez Trump's unimpressive pace is especially troubling given that candidate Joe Biden promised to "broadly use his clemency power for certain non-violent and drug crimes" and there is an on-going pandemic that continues to harmfully impact a (now growing) federal prison population as well as thousands of low-risk offenders released to home confinement facing possible return to prison. 

I have highlighted in a number of prior posts how disappointing the Biden Administration's criminal justice record has been so far.  But his clemency record (or lack thereof) represents the most tangible and worrisome example of this Administration's apparent affinity for the (broken) political and legal status quo on various federal criminal justice matters.

A few of many prior related posts:

September 2, 2021 at 02:00 PM | Permalink


Darn. Biden didn't have a troll pardon that gave a big middle finger to the rule of law and civil rights.

The "any pardon is a pardon is a pardon" mentality is wrong. Trump abused the pardon process. Just because he used his pardon power, it isn't a good thing.

I think the heading is a bit of a troll. Moving past that, yes, Biden should be pushed to do more. But, he already did things with some "tangible" benefit to criminal justice matters too.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 2, 2021 2:26:17 PM

If Biden really wanted to follow Trump's lead, there are lots of folks he could pardon to secure partisan applause. Like you, I'd rather like to see the clemency power used well rather than used poorly. But it needs to be used to be used well, and there are plenty of opportunities to use it well and we are all still waiting for him to use it at all. I wanted to make that point, even if in a troll-y way.

Posted by: Doug B. | Sep 2, 2021 2:35:59 PM

If meant seriously, then the first sentence of Prof. B.’s response just displays a complete failure to grasp the point being made. It’s stuff like this that makes people think law profs are out of touch with the real world.

Posted by: kotodama | Sep 2, 2021 5:41:49 PM

Kotodama: the first sentence was a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of Joe's sound point that Prez Trump's first pardon was about appealing to the base (and "owning the libs") while also noting that Prez Biden could also surely find a base-appealing clemency prospects.

I fear you missed my point that I generally view even questionable uses of the pardon power --- and some might contend that all uses are questionable --- as preferable to no use. If one thinks our federal CJ system almost never gets it wrong, then I can understand a disaffinity for many uses of the pardon power. But because I think our federal CJ system quite often gets it wrong, I have considerable disaffinity for the failure to use the pardon power.

Posted by: Doug B. | Sep 3, 2021 7:26:26 AM

I won't be voting for this, "more of the same" President.

Posted by: Randy | Sep 7, 2021 5:31:04 AM

I agree 100%. We are in a Pandemic and what people don't understand is that The Federal Gov. has been locking away people for decades without having any evidence of drugs, So during this time, with a historic Pandemic, not only are they imprisoned illegally, they can and have died. If this President really meant he wanted to fix what he created, he would have done it already. He only said he would use his Clemency to appease the people who are sick of the Gov. locking away it's loved ones because someone said they had drugs. The "ghost" amount added up and off to prison they went for 15+ years. We are sick of it and it needs to be fixed, PERIOD. So, if he doesn't fix this Constitutional violation of peoples rights in prison, he is burying his chance for reelection. At least by me and my family. One day this government will actually have to get evidence of a conspiracy before charging and sentencing people. No one will do anything till it happens to them or their children and then...it's too late.

Posted by: Randy | Sep 7, 2021 5:40:08 AM

-->I won't be voting for this, "more of the same" President.

Other than the various things for which he is not "more of the same," including repeatedly nominating more liberal (including multiple former public defenders) leaning federal judges.

Also, a major concern for those in the criminal justice system is necessary social supports and other resources, including housing and so forth, that he and other Democrats have supported and continue to support.

And, AG Garland has already did things to target violations of police abuse and so on.


The slowness in this specific area -- though as COVID, Afghanistan, infrastructure, voting rights, etc. is being addressed, how "slow" it is after less than eight months (of 48) in office is unclear -- should be criticized.

To the extent a broad revolution in how we do things is necessary, well, Biden is not that. He has some potential to be a bridge.

One interesting thing for me personally would be looking at specific people in his administration with special responsibility in this area. Looking at Biden -- who is the head of the whole executive dept. -- is a bit high there. Even Garland doesn't have the specific responsibility.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 8, 2021 1:45:50 PM

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