As President Bush's term nears its end, rumors abound that he will grant a lot of final pardons. Hundreds of clemency applications have been filed with the Justice Department in the past year, a reflection of the popular belief that pardoning is an end-of-term phenomenon in which all presidents indulge ... Yet presidential pardons have rarely been concentrated in the weeks between Election Day and the inauguration of a new president. There was no precedent for the torrent of irregular grants issued by Bill Clinton on his last day in office, many of which were the product of special pleading by Clinton friends and family. Historically, pardoning has occurred regularly over the course of a president's term, more frequently in the middle than at either end.PardonPower has discussed pardon statistics with Love in recent months and we seem to be inching toward congruence. We agree that Clinton's last-minute splurge was unique in terms of degree. Other presidents (a handful) have splurged near the very end of their terms, but none of them to the degree that Mr. Clinton did. We continue to maintain however, that most presidents have granted the highest number of pardons in the fourth and last year of the term.
More importantly, Love argues the pardon power "is more functionally relevant to the federal justice system today than it has been since the 19th century" because demand for clemency "increases when the system lacks other mechanisms for delivering individualized justice, for recognizing changed circumstances, or for correcting errors and inequities." She then notes the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, in particular, has made the pardon power "virtually the only mechanism by which lengthy mandatory prison sentences can be reconsidered once they have become final."
Love laments that pardon "has not played a meaningful role in the justice system for years," but offers that "a series of final pardons could highlight flaws in the justice system that would be instructive to the next administration." We could not agree more. See Post editorial here.