Thursday, October 1, 2015

Times on the Pardon Power, Awkwardly

An editorial in today' New York Times notes that, "between 1885 and 1930, presidents issued more than 10,000 grants of clemency." We have not checked the accuracy of that observation - just yet ... 9,133 seems to be more accurate to us - but, regardless, we remain uncertain as to how the Times sees it as in any way relevant.

The Times does suggest, however, that "in recent decades the practice has fallen into irrelevance ... starting with President Ronald Reagan." Our memory, on the other hand, is that about a half of a century passed between 1930 and the appearance of Ronald Reagan.

It is also our impression that Truman pardoned less than Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson pardoned less than Truman. Nixon pardoned less than Johnson. Carter pardoned less than Nixon. Pointing the other way - Reagan pardoned more than H.W. Bush, W. Bush and Obama. Clinton barely passed Reagan, and only because of his last-minute pardon bonanza.

In sum, someone, while attempting to provide some context, does not have much of a sense of context.

Then the Times notes:
Until recently, President Obama was the least merciful president of modern times. In the past year, he has done more — his totals now stand at 89 sentence commutations and 64 pardons.
In fact, President Obama IS (as in currently, right this second) among the least merciful presidents in history. Only eight others have granted fewer pardons and commutations of sentence, and most of them served a single term, or died before they could complete a single term.

As for "modern presidents," only one has pardoned less, George H.W. Bush. So, if we are looking for a point in recent history where the pardon power fell into "irrelevance," 1988-1992 might be the place to go. In recent weeks, the U.S. pardon attorney in that disastrous administration is finally joining others in calling for the pardon process to be moved out of the Department of Justice. The Times is in agreement. See full editorial here.

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