Saturday, May 8, 2010

Thinking Out Loud Re Obama's Clemency Negligence

As of Monday, President Obama will have gone a whopping 475 days without granting a single pardon or commutation of sentence. As a result, only four presidents have ever been slower to exercise the pardon power: George Washington, John Adams, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Our own instinct is to guess that Obama will, in fact, pass Adams (who is quite nearby, at the 536 days mark). So, in our mind, it is really only a matter of whether the President will finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd in the history books.

Our own research has shown that one out of every two pardons granted over the last four decades has been granted in a single month, the month of December. So, we have no problem guessing that, should Obama ever decide to use the pardon power, it would be in the month of December. Also, if recent history matters, this December seems more likely than next, or the next. Again, we have no "inside scoop" on this. We are only thinking in terms of past trends in the data.

However, if President Obama waits until December 1st to grant his very first pardon or commutation of sentence, he will actually wind up passing both John Adams and Bill Clinton (who sits in at the 672 days mark - because Clinton's first pardons came in the month of November). How ironic then, would it be that Obama, the self-declared primary agent of Hope and Change, would be comparable to only one other modern president in the matter of clemency negligence; George W. Bush!

In sum, we do expect that some dunderhead in the administration will tap his/her finger on the President's shoulder around Christmas time and remind him (among other things) to pass out a handful of pardons, like so many pieces of candy, or Holiday gifts, which, in the public's eye, may or may not be deserved. And once again, the idea will be reinforced that clemency is/should be an afterthought, because presidents have better / more important things to do than to be letting criminals out in the streets, distributing get-out-of-jail-free cards, blah, blah. The President will, once again, appear as more of a quaint, shady Santa Clause-like figure than an intelligent administrator with an eye toward the daily needs of the justice system. It is a shame that recent presidents have felt the need to kick-start their clemency programs in such a manner but it is what it is.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Ruckman,

I dont believe it is anything other than politics. Because of the bad publicity Clinton recieved, W & now, O were/are afraid to draw that same criticism. Even though, all they really had/have to do is grant legit pardons/commutations. Clinton's fiasco was more directed at the ill advised pardons. However, once the microscope is applied, its going to look at all of em.

So, I dont really think the blame rests fully on W, and or O. Clinton shoulders some of the blame. However, it would be nice to see O lead by example, instead of remain fearfull do to others' actions.

Anonymous said...

I am a pretty good golfer, maybe I should ask the President out for a round, then I could discuss my pardon application with him. Seems that approach works better than living a clean life and redeeming one's self for there wrong doing.

Anonymous said...


President Obama will grant his first pardon (pardons as you say) when he feels necessary. He isn't like other presidents so I wouldn't hold my breath on it happening just in time for Christmas. No study was used in order to determine that, just an estimate. It's an estimate based on President Obama along with many others before him have faith in the Criminal Justice System and that offenders are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. When and if he eventually does, I doubt he will leave you much to write about.

P.S. Ruckman, Jr. said...

EDITOR: ANON3, I don't know of anyone who would disagree with the notion that Obama will grant pardons when he is "ready" to. The same could certainly have been said of every other president, so I am not certain what your point is.

I have no idea what you mean when you say no "study" was behind the projection of December pardons and even less of sense of what you mean by that expectation being based on an estimate. Perhaps I could be more clear. Statistical research has shown that 1 of every two pardons granted in the last 39 years has been granted in the month of December. Put another way, if one were to bet cash on which of the 12 months will feature the first Obama pardons, only a fool would select a month other than December.

I am sorry that your understanding of pardons is such that you think they are generally related to the notion of "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." For at least 80 years, 95 plus percent of all pardons that have been granted have had ZERO to do with guilt or innocence. They have simply involved requests to restore the civil rights of individuals who have already served their time and paid their debt to society. That is to say, your notion of a pardon as a get-out-of-jail free card is, for the most part, wildly uninformed.

Finally, I can assure you, if Obama were to never grant a single pardon, I would still have plenty to write about. Just wait and see!


Anonymous said...


Sorry for the delay. I was following orders for a medical, dental and eye exam as President Obama instructed me to.

I respectively suggest that you also make an appointment because you simply don’t apprehend my comment as mentioned above. I clearly remember commenting that President Obama will grant his pardon (pardons as you perceive) when he is ready to. Every vote counts.

In order to make perceptions a little more clear, let me explain what I mean when I say no “study” has been used to predetermine such a conclusion. I’ve been to Vegas, I’ve played roulette and I bet you have too. Maybe you’re forgetting the sense one grasps when the wheel hits red rather than black for the twentieth time in a row. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen it.

I, on one hand back many former president’s power to grant a pardon besides Ford’s for Nixon. Let’s face it; that was more than 5 plus percent disgusting and sounds like a get-out-of-jail free card to me. On the other hand, I agree with you’re teams solid facts behind the research. I just wouldn’t bet on it too early as voters have already accomplished with Bush.

- Former Student -

P.S. Ruckman, Jr. said...

EDITOR: "Former Student": I don't understand anything you have written except to say, perhaps, that you are the only person on the planet who uses the word "study" in the manner that you do. I, for example, have certainly have never met, seen, nor ever even heard of anyone who thought a study "predetermined" anything. Similarly, Ford's pardon of Nixon was not - "5 plus percent" of anything, not in any normal sense of language. And, BTW, you lose the roulette bet with me as well. I am strictly "Go Fish."

Anonymous said...

I think you must have given ANON3 a bad grade, and ANON3 deserves and even worst grade now, I am a pardon applicant and researched it well before I submitted it. The facts that Mr. Ruckman write are pretty much dead on.

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