Friday, July 21, 2017

Answering CNN's Cillizza

Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor at Large asks Prof. Brian Kalt:
Presidential pardons have become a late-in-the-term move due to the controversy they cause. Has that always been the case, historically speaking?
Here is our answer:

First, it would be more accurate to say that pardons have become a "late-in-the-term move" due to media scrutiny, very often dramatized so as to drum-up scandal, or the appearance of scandal. This is, of course, understandable, to a degree. Viewership / readership matter in the business of journalism. But, the net effect is also exacerbated by the heavy emphasis media place on recidivism - at the expense of countless other real-life stories of wrongful prosecution, disproportionate sentencing, rehabilitation, redemption and reincorporation into society.

It is noteworthy that Willie Horton is often referenced as a benchmark in the hesitancy of governors and presidents to use the pardon power. But Horton was never pardoned by anyone. Think about that.

Second, has late-term pardoning "always been the case, historically speaking?" While it is true that most presidents have granted the largest number of pardons and commutations of sentence in the fourth and final year of the term, they granted pardons and commutations throughout the term, usually every month. Presidents usually granted the first act of clemency early in their term and there were no subsequent patches of many months - much less years (see Clinton, W. Bush, Obama) -  without clemency, followed by a large number of acts at the very end of the term. Large spaces of time without clemency started, roughly, in the Eisenhower administration.

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