Sunday, September 12, 2010

600 Days! Obama in Very Rare Air

Today marks the 600th day of the Obama administration. At this point, despite a record number of clemency applications, Obama has yet to grant a single pardon or commutation of sentence. Only three other presidents have waited longer - see chart here. First, there is George Washington, who waited a whopping 1,811 days to grant the first presidential pardon under the new Constitution. Even with a flurry of pardons just as he was leaving office, Washington granted relatively few pardons. It also appears that mercy was not exactly his forte when he commanded the army during the Revolution. * EDITOR: See update on this information here.

In second, is George W. Bush, who waited 699 days before granting the first pardon of his administration. Bush also used the pardon power sparingly, but certainly more so than Washington. The commutation of Scooter Libby's prison sentence was probably his most controversial act, but the nullification of the pardon of Isaac Toussie raised more than a few eyebrows. Bush also intentionally granted a pardon to one dead person, Charlie Winters, and used the power to intervene in the high profile case of Igancio Ramos and Jose Compean. Generally, it was obvious that clemency was not a high priority for Bush and, as a result, there was considerable (actually downright wild) speculation that the final days of his administration might feature a wild, mind-numbing flurry of controversial pardons.

Bill Clinton, who waited 672 days before granting a pardon, was, of course, partly responsible for public concern about pardons near the end of the Bush administration. Clinton appeared to be headed toward a level of merciless administration the likes of which had not been seen since John Adams. The effect, in part, was to attract considerable attention / criticism to the few pardons that he did grant. But, as the administration ended, Clinton showed his disdain for the Department of Justice (that charged him with perjury) and its rules and regulations by granting pardons to relatives, friends, donors, friends of donors, members of his administration, party leaders, etc. Many had not even applied for clemency. Some argue Clinton's caper did as much damage to the reputation of the pardon power as the media's reaction to Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon.

These (above) are the only presidents who have waited longer than Barack Obama to grant a pardon. Over the last 39 years, 1 out of every 2 presidential pardons has been granted in the month of December. If, however, Obama waits until December to discover the pardon power, he will actually pass Clinton. This would make him 1) the slowest Democratic president in history to pardon and 2) second only to George W. Bush among modern presidents. If history matters, one might expect the Obama administration to end very much in the manner of Bush or Clinton. That is to say, it will end in wild speculation and disappointment or in wild controversy.


Anonymous said...

So much for "Hope & Change"....

Anonymous said...

For a while there was hope, now we have to bank on luck, who of use will be one of the lucky 2%-4% of the 1140 pardon applications processed and ready for a decision. I think I will just keep playing the lottery, it is better than my hope of a Presidential Pardon. The President has turned out to be heart less.

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