Wednesday, April 28, 2010

USA Today on Obama, Clemency Trends

Providing charts of data that (for some very odd reason) only go back as far as the Ford succession administration, Mimi Hall of USA Today guesses that President Obama "has received more petitions for pardons and shorter prison sentences than previous presidents at this point in office." We thought, therefore, that we would provide a public service here.

Then, in a couple of sentences we are still trying to decipher, USA Today notes:
Not since Gerald Ford, who approved more than 150 clemency petitions in his first year in office, has a president granted mercy more than 10 times early in his tenure. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each waited about two years to approve a pardon or shorten a prison sentence, records show.
Wha? It is well known (thanks to this blog) that President Obama is among the very slowest presidents in history to exercise the pardon power - to date (or 463 days into it) he has not granted a single pardon or commutation of sentence. But presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan and George H.W. Bush were all relative speedsters by comparison (see chart here).

As far as no more than 10 grants of clemency "early" in "tenure" is concerned ... here are some first year numbers for presidents within the scope of the USA Today data:

Carter (1st year) - 69 pardons and commutations
Reagan (1st year) - 51 pardons and commutations
Reagan (1st year, 2nd term) - 35 pardons and commutations
Clinton (1st year, 2nd term) - 23 pardons and commutations

Obama, of course, has been president for more than a full year and, well, all of the numbers above appear to be well above 10 ... at least to us anyway.

And, finally, to note that George W. Bush and Bill Clinton waited "about two years" before granting a pardon or commutation of sentence without also mentioning that the delays in these administrations were - by historical standards - wildly freakish is to do readers a great disservice. Indeed, the only president in history slower than Bush and Clinton was the very first - George Washington! Thus, Bush and Clinton were not "the norm" - even for modern, or recent administrations. Any administration comparable to Bush and Clinton, on this topic, is in the Land of the Freaks!

Fortunately, the article improves as it moves away from data. Clemency expert Daniel Kobil notes the "incredibly pernicious political atmosphere" makes it difficult to exercise the pardon power, even for presidents otherwise inclined to do so. Rachel Barkow cites "the fear" of "the one case that goes bad" haunting politicians. See USA Today story here.

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