Thursday, November 28, 2013

Obama. Christianity. Forgiveness.

The Founding Fathers considered the pardon power an important part of our system of checks and balances and separation of powers. It is, quite simply, based on the assumption that the legislative and judicial branches of government are not perfect. Care to disagree? Thus, Alexander Hamilton observed, in the Federalist Papers that, since the criminal codes of nations have an almost natural tendency toward over-severity, there should be "easy access" to mercy.

Sprinkle in a culture squarely influenced by Judeo-Christian notions of mercy, forgiveness and redemption and traditions will likely follow, even in the criminal justice system. Indeed, throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, it was not uncommon for prison officials and staff to draw up lists of clemency recommendations for the President of the United States. These recommendations would be forwarded to the Department of Justice and, very often, granted as (and sometimes explicitly labeled as) "Christmas pardons." State governors engaged in the same kinds of practices. One of every two pardons granted over the last four decades has been granted in a single month, December. This is no freak accident.

In a "town hall" meeting in Tampa, Florida, President Obama once said:
This is part of my faith, my religious faith, but you don't have to be religious to, I think, believe in the idea of redemption, that people can get a second chance that people can change 
On the other hand, on June 28, 2006, Obama also famously observed,
Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation – at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.
In the context of one of the most merciless administrations in history, that comment might just be very well worth a second look. Does this statement (and the beliefs behind it) have policy implications? with respect to clemency in particular? There has been some anecdotal speculation about the possible decline of "Christmas clemency," in the past, but we are the first to provide relevant data on the matter:

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