Thursday, November 17, 2016

Chicago Tribune: Consistency. Care. Routinized Pardoning.

In previous posts, we have wondered if President Obama's end of term clemency splurge - while long anticipated, and pleasing to no small degree - might not actually do long-term damage to the pardon power. Today, the Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune ponders similar complexities. It notes, the President's "rush of late commutations suggests the [clemency] process now operates in a less orderly, deliberate way, which invites mistakes."  In addition, the Editorial Board says:
Presidential clemency is meant to be an instrument of wisdom and compassion ... If we can make our own plea as [President Obama] weighs acts of clemency during his final days in office: A power this consequential should be employed in a way that is easier for the public to understand and accept. 
Why this conclusion? The Tribune recognizes that the President has "long been critical of lengthy sentences imposed on drug offenders" and that he "has focused his clemency powers on reducing sentences for federal inmates who meet certain conditions." Indeed, to date, Obama has very generously commuted the sentence of 944 felons - more than 300 with life sentences.

However, the President has only granted 70 pardons, "the lowest for any two-term president since George Washington." And the "discrepancy" is all the more odd given the fact that pardons are almost always wildly uncontroversial:
Pardons more often go to people already on the outside and trying to regain a place in society. Pardons restore civil rights, such as rights to vote, serve on juries and own guns, and make it easier to get occupational licenses and jobs. 
The Tribune worries that the President has "neglected" pardon applications, again, the kind of problem could be solved with a process that is more "systematic and routine." See full editorial here.

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