Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Context: "Last Minute" Pardons of Lame Ducks

As George Washington was leaving the White House, he signed almost as many clemency warrants as he had the previous 8 years as President. Bill Clinton, of course, did some amazing things himself with the pardon power in his final hours as president. Most presidents have, in fact, granted the highest number of pardons in the fourth and final year of the term. But Washington and Clinton were exceptions in that they splurged near the very end of the term, the "last-minute." Most presidents have not done this. But combine the fact that a few presidents have with the fact that some prominent individuals have been granted pardons late in the game and you have an impression that just will not die: that presidents typically leave office in a giant hail storm of controversial pardons.

It simply is not true.

If anything, presidents may tend to grant more "controversial" pardons near the very end of the term - although no empirical research has been done on the question. Of course, "controversial" gets to be a tricky word here. Are the pardons "controversial" because they are "controversial," or because they appear at the very end of the term? or both? Safe to say George Bush's pardon of Aslam Adam would have received much less attention had it not been granted late in the term. Here are some other examples of notable "lame duck" pardons:

Clinton (Marc Rich, Roger Clinton, J. Fyfe Symington, Susan Rosenberg, Dorothy Rivers, Mel Reynolds, Henry Flipper, John Deutch, Henry Cisneros, Linda Evans)
Bush (Aslam Adam, Joseph Occhipinti, Edwin L. Cox, Jr.)
Reagan (George Steinbrenner, Junior Johnson)
Carter (Peter Yarrow, Frederic B. Ingram)
Ford (Maurice Schick, Richard Hagelberger, Tokyo Rose)
Truman (Edward F. Prichard, Richard Leche, J. Parnell Thomas)
Taft (Charles R. Heike)
McKinkley (Jim M Hansen)
Grover Cleveland (James D. Fish, the Button Gang, Alexander Allen)
Grant (William O. Avery, John McDonald, )
A. Johnson (Samuel Mudd, Charles A. Dunham, Edward Spangler, Samuel B. Arnold, Moses and Jacob DePuy)
Buchanan (Sherman Booth)
Adams (Freis' Rebels)
Washington (Whiskey Rebels)

1 comment:

Bob Fertik said...

If Bush pardons Cheney or other top administration officials at the last minute for crimes Bush himself authorized, that will be extremely controversial - both because the action will be corrupt (pardoning his own crimes!) and because it will be cowardly (too late for Congress to impeach him or for voters to punish his party).

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