Wednesday, November 14, 2012

2012: Further Decline in Christmas Clemency?

December has been a critical month for presidential pardons for some time. 1 of every 2 pardons granted over the last 39 years has been granted in this month alone. But, in December of 1999, an article in Christian Science Monitor suggested that, in recent years, there had been a decline in "Christmas Clemency." The article was generally based on the fact that President Clinton had gone a couple of Decembers without granting any pardons or commutations of sentence. Otherwise, no data were presented on the topic.

Using our own original data, we have calculated the total number of December pardons and commutations of sentence, by year and administration, from 1945 (Truman) to 2011 (Obama). Click on the image above and to the left.

A couple of things seem notable: First, the current record for the highest number of individual pardons granted in a single day, 204, was set by Richard Nixon in December of 1972. Second, while there is no clear linear decline in December pardons and commutations across the full 65 years of data, there are only 18 Decembers which feature zero clemency actions. However,12 of those 18 Decembers are bunched up in just the last 24 years (post-1986).  It was all coal and switches from 1989 to 1996, where 7 out of 8 Decembers were entirely merciless. While Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford (and, arguably, Jimmy Carter) were Santa's little helpers, the Grinch Award clearly has to go to George H. W. Bush. As for President Obama ...


Here are the aggregate data for each president, in chronological order:

Truman
218
Carter
267
Eisenhower
216
Reagan
175
Kennedy
24
Bush
24
Johnson
281
Clinton
161
Nixon
643
Bush
89
Ford
171
Obama
9

Here are the rankings of the presidents by total number of December pardons:

Nixon
643
Ford
171
Johnson
281
Clinton
161
Carter
267
G.W. Bush
89
Truman
218
G.H.W. Bush
24
Eisenhower
216
Kennedy
24
Reagan
175
Obama
9

Of course, some presidents served longer terms than others. So, here are the presidents ranked by average number of pardons and commutations per December:

Nixon
129
Reagan
22
Carter
67
Clinton
20
Ford
57
G.W. Bush
11
Johnson
47
Kennedy
8
Eisenhower
27
G.H.W. Bush
6
Truman
27
Obama
3

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