Thursday, October 27, 2016

"Last-Minute" Clemency Has a New Face

"Last-minute" clemency is a term of art. How last-minute is last minute? Bill Clinton did his controversial gig in the final hours. John Adams stretched the nightmare out a bit. Evidently, George Washington did his routine almost literally as he was going out the door.

One standard way to approach the topic is to look at 4th year clemency - or, as we have done, calculate the percentage increase between the average number of clemency grants in years 1-3 and the number of grants in the fourth and final year of the term. By this measure, President Obama's second term represents the greatest last-minute clemency surge in American history.

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge
While it is true that most presidents have granted the largest number of pardons and commutations in the 4th and final year of the term, it is not true that President Clinton's antics were "business as usual." His kind of dramatic last-minute surge was not the norm.

It might be argued that President Obama's grants are not "last-minute" in any normal sense of the language because they are the by-product of a grueling application process "revamped" via Clemency Project 2014. It would certainly be interesting to trace the progress of applications through the federal bureaucracy - something we used to be able to do - see posts here and here). But the Office of the Pardon Attorney (DOJ) stopped accepting (or even acknowledging the receipt of) FOIA requests way back in 2014 (see post here).  Thus, there is simply no way to make even superficial assessment of the deliberative nature of the clemency process in this historic last year of the Obama administration.

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