Friday, November 12, 2010

Let Us Be the FIRST to Complain

In just a few days, President Obama will pass Bill Clinton as the slowest Democratic president in history to grant a pardon or commutation of sentence. If history is a guide of any value, he will grant a handful of pardons sometime a couple of weeks into December. As this blog has reported, one out of every two pardons granted over the last 39 years has been granted in December.

When the handful of pardons is dumped, the scene will be predictable enough. In all likelihood, none of them will have even a remote sense of "controversy" about them. Obama was gratuitously critical of Bush's commutation of sentence for Scooter Libby. He also appointed Eric Holder as attorney general, who brought more pardon luggage to that office than any individual in history (Marc Rich, FALN terrorists, etc.). And, of course, Obama, who so condescendingly noted (in a debate) that he could do more than one thing at time, can always claim, to the satisfaction of many, that he has been far too busy doing other, more important things. To top it off, Obama mysteriously retained George W. Bush's pardon attorney! In sum, there is no time for pardon controversies ... at this point.

So, out the innocuous handful of pardons will come.

People who follow the pardon power and comment on such matters frequently (and those representing pardon applicants!) will timidly praise the president for waking up and discovering his constitutional powers. But they will also express their wish that the administration will do more. If pressed about the matter directly, publicly, the president, or his spokesperson, will describe clemency decisions as "tough" decisions, that take time and require patience. The pitiful pose as someone being "pushed" to pardon in haste is/always has been an effective PR ploy. "Ya can't please everybody" blah blah blah.

But let us be the first to say, Mr. President, that dumping a handful of pardons at Christmas is a very sorry way to demonstrate that you (or the DOJ) has anything like a serious clemency program. Instead, it clearly sends the signal that the justice that can only be wrought by acts of mercy is a mere afterthought, inappropriate for the other 11 months of the year, when you see yourself as taking care of "important" stuff.

In addition, Christmastime pardons send a very wrongheaded - if not outright dangerous - signal to the American people that pardons are something like Christmas gifts, passed out during the holiday season, to those who actually may, or may not deserve them. Which is to say, it is no wonder the DOJ and OPA are so shy about pardons. The very timing of them implies their work re the assessment of pardon applications is a joke.

Of course, if the media were to inquire about the "typical" pardon half as much as they do the "controversial" ones, they would learn (and educate the American public to) the fact that the typical act of clemency does not spring anyone from prison or overturn the judgement of judges and juries at all! In fact, the typical act of clemency simply restores the civil rights of individuals who have served their time, waited a prescribed period before applying for clemency and have become productive members of society. Which is to say, their pardon was not really much of anything like a "gift." They earned it. Believe it, dear reader, when a person gets a pardon out of the DOJ in the last 4 decades - it is earned!

So, while some may be encouraged by the morsels of mercy that President Obama distributes while Santa Claus is in the neighborhood, let us be the first to complain. Shame on you, Mr. President. To date, your clemency "policy" deserves nothing but scorn, slight regard and contempt. Like most presidents before you, you should make pardons (and justice) a year-long concern, and insist that it be the year-long concern of the bureaucrats that are supposed to be working on applications all year long. When there is little evidence that they have more interest in clemency than you, they should be summarily removed, pronto.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Ruckman..
Obama is the first president I can remember specifically talking about clemency pre-elected. He talked about the "change" needed to the DOJ's clemency. He appeared to really be in favor of clemency (before he was sworn in). It appears to have just been vote pandering. Felons are allowed to vote in many states. I happen to live in one, & do vote.

The pardon process wouldnt even be neccasary for many like me, who are just wanting our civil rights restored.... if the gov would allow ATF to go back to a clear policy doing such. It would be much more productive, and dare I say... "fair", if we could go back to the pre-Clinton era of allowing the DOJ, & ATF to restore these rights without the authority of the President. Alot of people seeking pardon from the President, are merely wanting these rights restored. Many states dont allow felons to vote. Many are/were game hunters, sport shooters, etc... not to mention the requirements of many cities to "register" upon arrival. Although, some deeply covet "forgiveness", many just want to be American again....

Anonymous said...

Here Here! We have paid our dues and just want our civil rights back, that if the charges would have been state, our convictions would have been cleared by now because of time and how we have lived our lives. Keep the heat on the President.

life for pot said...

Thank you for your solid work in calling attention to the egregious sentencing in our criminal justice system. It is a lonesome job, but you are raising awareness to the problems and the solution.

The incarceration of of our citizens has become a giant tear in the fabric of society.

Anonymous said...

I have been waiting for the state of IL for 3yrs on my pardon request. It has been 20yrs since my bad check charge. I applied for a job at walmart and was turned down because of the 20yr old felony.. The only trouble I have been in my life. I believe approve or disapprove , it should be looked at on a timely manner. It is a injustice to the folks like me that have applied ..

Anonymous said...

I heard from an inside source that Obama's only going to pardon the Thanksgiving turkey again.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry. Two turkeys to be exact.

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