In a stumbling, bumbling piece, Spakovsky says he is "concerned over President Barack Obama’s excessive use of his power under Art. II, §2, Cl. 1 of the Constitution to grant pardons and commutations." So, you know right away that this will be an entertaining read. Obama was exceptionally slow to grant the first pardon of his administration. His first term (featuring a mere 22 pardons and 1 commutation of sentence) was the least merciful since the first term of George Washington! Obama's record on pardons remains abysmal.
So, what planet is Spakovsky on?
Well, more specifically, he is concerned that Obama has extended clemency to "hundreds of drug dealers, many of whom also were convicted of firearms offenses." Of course, the word "many" is a red flag. If you have some data, let's see it! But, regardless, does the President have the power to extend clemency to such persons? Of course he does. Has Obama violated some constitutional limit on classes of pardonable offenses, or offenders? Certainly not.
Has Obama used his power "excessively?" Sure, as long as you don't care at all what you mean when you say "excessive." To date he has granted 348 commutations of sentence. Almost 12,000 applications are pending and the DOJ has already denied or closed more than 12,000 (a record). Meanwhile, almost 200,000 people are in federal prisons / custody. Yeah, 348. Wildly excessive. Way over the top. If you are a loon.
Having asserted little and proven nothing, Spakovsky says President Obama "is not the first president to misuse that authority." To support this notion, he digs impressively into the pages of history, all the way back to the Clinton administration. There clemency was extended to "members of a Puerto Rican terrorist group" (FALN) and "promiscuously in his last 24 hours" to "people (or their representatives) with strong White House connections or who had contributed generously to the president’s party or his own presidential library."
Spakovsky makes no attempt to link these examples to President Obama's own use of the pardon power in any intelligent way - despite his assertion that it "is a serious issue that the public should critically examine and that voters should think about."
Finally, the author offers that "no one denies that there are some individuals convicted of drug offenses who received excessive sentences under some of our more draconian mandatory minimum sentencing laws whose sentences should be commuted" but ...
Everyone should be able to agree that no action should be taken by any president until and unless Justice Department lawyers have undertaken a detailed review of the merits of such cases, including an in-depth look at the character and personal history of felons in federal prison who are seeking absolution or a sentence reduction for their crimes. That is how to conduct the pardon process.But for our 200-plus year tradition of group pardons (or amnesties), Spakovsky is spot on. Apparently, he thinks Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Jackson, Buchanan, Lincoln. Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Ford and Carter all "misued" the pardon power.
Of course, the Constitution says nothing about the conditions Spakovsky wants to paste to it, and they bust into pieces against the walls of a thousand scenarios. If the Justice Department reviews a case and determines a prisoner is actually innocent, then there should be an "in-depth look at character and person history?" Nonsense. There should be an immediate release and a formal apology, if not reparation. Similarly, if it is agreed that a sentence is patently unfair and/or excessive ... then it is excessive and/or unfair.
Just when one thinks Spakovsky cannot write any more poorly about this topic, he adds:
Unfortunately, we know that is not what matters to some presidents. What matters is petitioners with the right friends in high office, who have made the right political contributions, who can provide a political boost for certain candidates, or who will help a president meet a particular political goal, regardless of the individual circumstances and merits of the petitioners’ crimes.Once again, this diatribe is not intelligently linked in any way to President Obama. It is just there. Ironically, it is written after condemning President Clinton for giving the pardon power a bad reputation. But, for every "controversial" pardon, there are a dozen lazy writers and journalists who effortlessly spew such ignorant nonsense. Smearing the pardon power has long been a shock tactic, a partisan hack routine and a device used to convince readers that the cynicism of writers has led them to some deep, profound insight into the true nature of things. In the real world, the typical clemency recipient - as in 95 plus percent - doesn't meet the yellow journalistic description, above, on any dimension. Every serious, conscientious observer of the clemency process - even those that also happen to be sharply critical of it - knows this. See full story here.