"We know we have more work to do when Scooter Libby gets no prison time and a 21-year-old honor student, who hadn't even committed a felony, gets 10 years in prison."Obama's aides later said that he was referring to one Genarlow Wilson, an African-American who had been serving a 10-year prison sentence for "having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17." Wilson was actually released upon the order of Georgia's Supreme Court several days earlier.
However important - or unimportant - one thinks the pardon power is, there was Mr. Obama, talking about it during the campaign, in a highly visible setting. He could have been talking about health care, or the deficit, or social security. But, instead, there he was expressing his opinion about the decision making of judges and prosecutors and all but explicitly yelling out loud that there are serious injustices in our society - and the criminal justice system in particular - that he cared about, and that needed to be addressed. And there is no doubting that this was a powerful and moving moment along the campaign trail, carefully designed to mobilize support for his candidacy.
Obama's criticism of the Libby commutation may have scored points with partisans, but, as President of the United States, he has achieved the status of the slowest Democratic president in history to exercise the pardon power. To date, Obama has granted a measily 9 pardons, mostly to seniors, for minor offenses, committed long ago, and zero - that's right - ZERO commutations of sentence. Which is to say, despite all the talk, and despite the fact that, as President, he now has the unilateral power to actually help the Genarlow Wilson's of this world, Obama has yet to lift his finger on their behalf. To date, the candidate who talked Hope and Change might as well be George W. Bush - the man who Obama was (and remains) so critical of and, ironically, the only recent (since 1945) president who has taken longer than Obama to grant a commutation of sentence.
Perhaps there are no more Genarlow Wilsons. Yes, perhaps there isn't a single one in our insanely crowded federal prisons, or nested somewhere in the record number of commutation applications coming into (and lingering around for long periods of time in) the Obama Justice Department. Perhaps the President is too busy with other, more important, things and, in time, will re-direct his attention to the injustices he acted so concerned about when he was a candidate looking for votes. Whatever one thinks about George W. Bush, when he saw a sentence that he thought was overly harsh, he used the power that the Founding Fathers took care to put in the Constitution to check the decision making of the judiciary and commuted the sentence.
Obama? Well ... he's just Obama.