Showing posts with label Comment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Comment. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Farewell 2013 !

Despite a grim year for pardons (state and federal), it was another active year for "the little blog that can." Yes, we know that, in the big scheme of things, we are small fry. But ...

We are proud of the fact that, in 2013, we averaged well over 2,000 visits per month and zoomed past the 300,000 hits mark. Now, 29 percent of our viewers are "regulars" and 29 percent are businesses. Our top DMA's were New York, Chicago, Washington DC,  Los Angeles and San Francisco (accounting for 35.3 percent of our unique visitors. We are also now on Facebook (link here) and Twitter (link here).

The blog and/or its Editor were referenced by CNN, the New York Times, Huffington Post, the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, as well as National Public Radio, the Associated Press, Forbes and Reason. 

Along the way, there were a more than a few visits by Department of Justice and even some from the Executive Office of the President of the United States (see right list of recent notable visitors in right column).

Finally, we would be remiss if we failed to mention that we received more comments on posts, and kind and supportive communications from readers than ever! For these, we are truly thankful. Happy New Year all! And thanks for stopping by!

Click on image (above) to enlarge.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The DOJ's Pardon Project

In recent weeks, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has called for a statistical study of presidential pardons (see formal announcement here). We have shared the announcement with our readers (here) with limited commentary. It now appears that ProPublica has done likewise (here). We would thus like to express our own hopes / expectations for the DOJ effort.

First, and foremost, it is hoped that the DOJ will report its findings in a manner that makes its effort an notable achievement in both government and the social sciences. Indeed, we hope that the report reaches the caliber of publications found in the professional journals, especially those of political science. This can be done the following ways:

Friday, March 2, 2012

James Q. Wilson, R.I.P.

This evening, I was very saddened to learn of the passing of one of America's great political scientists, James Q. Wilson. It has been my honor to be associated with professor Wilson's best-selling American Government: Institutions and Policies over the last several editions.

The manner in which I was brought on board was indicative. Houghton Mifflin had actually asked me to write a critique of American Government. I guess I should have been in awe, many would have been, and rightly so. But I was raised in the "no respecter of persons" school and felt very strongly that the text was falling seriously behind the best empirical research in the discipline - some of it coming out of Professor Wilson's own generation.

So, I ruthlessly blasted away at the best-selling book of its kind, about 10 pages worth, single-spaced. I remember mailing it from my unknown community college campus, here in No-where-sville, USA, and thinking to myself, "Well, that is the last I will ever hear of that / from them." Professor Wilson's reaction, however, was to ask that Houghton Mifflin hire me, to create teacher's manuals, test banks and study guides! And, along the way, I was invited into the editing process, from one edition to the next.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Barbour Stunts: The Solution

Had the honor of publishing an editorial in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger today. There were just a few changes made to the original, but nothing major. Here is the core of what we see as the solution to Haley-Barbour-like stunts:
... Mississippi legislators should also take note of what Alexander Hamilton says in Federalist 74 regarding Haley Barbour-like pardoning. Hamilton argues the executive will rightly exercise "scrupulousness and caution" in granting pardons, and do so with “circumspection" if there is "dread" of being “accused of weakness or connivance" and the executive is in "apprehension of suspicion or censure" for pardons which are considered "injudicious" or "affected." Which is to say, the best check against the abuse of the pardon power is, and always will be, constant public scrutiny.

... Mississippi gubernatorial candidates need to be asked about their view of pardons. Do they intend to grant them? If so, how often? Or, how little? And why? They also need to be questioned about last-minute pardons and what factors they would consider in granting pardons. Candidates should explain their view of the State's Parole Board, how important they consider its work and whether or not they will generally follow its recommendations? Such scrutiny would, of course, provide a public record, which would allow for additional scrutiny, the entire term.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Clueless: Michael A. Lindenberger on Barbour

In this classically tone-deaf editorial at Time, Michael A. Lindenberger further promotes the Police Squad-like script that former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour represents all that is right and has, somehow, become the victim of unwarranted criticism and attack. And, for dramatic effect, Lindenberger professes concern that Mississippians (who are "calling for blood") could "do real damage to an important safety valve in the American justice system."

On the other hand, Lindenberger is not at all concerned that Haley Barbour all but completely neglected this "important safety valve" for eight long years. No, not a word on that. Nor does Lindenberger display even the slightest concern that any of Barbour's last-minute decisions were made in haste (despite all of the missing information in the clemency warrants, the typos, the lack of detail, etc.). Lindenberger says he is concerned about pardons that have the feel of an "unappealable decision" or seem to hide "secrets" from the public. But it doesn't even dawn on him that dumping a huge pile of pardons just before one leaves office (after ignoring the pardon power for eight years) would clearly encourage any thoughtful person to suspect that unappealable decisions had been made in secret.

No, in Lindenberger's not-so-parallel universe, Barbour has done the reputation of the pardon power a great favor ! And Barbour deserves our praise.

Why, even Bill Clinton's most staunch cheerleaders were not so brazenly obtuse.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Is it Real, or is it Hollywood?

Barbour = The Problem, Not the Power

In honor of Haley Barbour's irresponsible behavior, we repost this piece, formerly entitled, "The Conservative Case for the Pardon Power."

Right On Crime (added to our blog listing) is a new site which claims to focus on "Conservative" views of the criminal justice system. In particular, it takes an interest in reducing crime, reducing the costs of criminal justice, reforming past offenders, restoring victims and protecting communities. In its Statement of Principles, the site notes that "Conservatives are known for being tough on crime," but argues it is also vital to achieve "a cost-effective system that protects citizens, restores victims, and reforms wrongdoers." In addition:
The corrections system should emphasize public safety, personal responsibility, work, restitution, community service, and treatment—both in probation and parole, which supervise most offenders, and in prisons. An ideal criminal justice system works to reform amenable offenders who will return to society through harnessing the power of families, charities, faith-based groups, and communities.
With these very concerns (and others) in mind, here are some reasons why Conservatives should favor well-articulated clemency policies which 1) regularize the process and minimize the tendency toward last-minute blitzes 2) restore a proper balance between the branches of government 3) address the specific concerns of Conservatives and 4) re-educate the American public as to the significance of the pardon power:

Friday, January 13, 2012

Barbour: Justice Really Important, If You Have Time for It!

Just minutes ago, former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour appeared on Fox News (Special Report with Bret Baier) to explain / justify his last-minute pardon bonanza. After insultingly suggesting he had been "misunderstood," Barbour said most people in the State of Mississippi were Christians and Christians believe in forgiveness. He added that America is a place where people get second chances. He also linked the pardon power to Mississippi's earliest Constitution, then the United States Constitution, and dared to compare his record on clemency to that of the conservative Republican gold standard - Ronald Reagan (who was President for eight years, but certainly did not grant 95 percent of his pardons on his last day in office - see chart below). Yes, it was a semi-impressive, inspiring, all-American, praise-allelujah, apple-pie, John Wayne, you-damn-tooting sales pitch for the power of executive clemency until  ...

Barbour said he couldn't really "look at" pardons for eight long years because he was busy with "Katrina and other things" (President Reagan, Barbour's "hero," evidently, was not nearly so busy). Good thing Barbour added "the other things" in there. Otherwise, eventually, someone would have asked, "Mr. Barbour, how many people did you pardon between January of 2004 (when you took office) and August of 2005 (Katrina)?" The answer is: ZERO. Almost 600 days of nothing! Zip. Notta.

Incidentally, the loafer Reagan granted more than 80 pardons in his first 600 days as President. But that is because it only took Reagan 65 days to start granting pardons. On the other hand, the tireless workhorse and endlessly distracted Mr. Barbour needed 1,649 days (four and a half years)!

Oh, the humanity!

Yes, and the one, single day, that Barbour was finally able to come up for air just happened to be his last day in office. Oddly enough, the God of most Mississippians (and of Christianity) appears not to be so busy, and is always ready to forgive (Psalms 86:5).

Busy Barbour v. Loafer / Ready to Forgive Reagan
Number of Pardons and Commutations Granted by Year of Term

Year 1
Year 2
Year 3
Year 4
Reagan 1st Term
Reagan 2nd Term
Barbour 1st Term
Barbour 2nd Term

Stee-rike two on Haley Barbour's PR rehabilitation tour.

In Defense of Barbour (Kinda)

In today's U.S. News, Mary Cary (drowsy Cubs' fans, please relax), a former speech writer for Mississippi Governor, who knows him "pretty well," is sharing that Mr. Barbour is "is an honorable, decent man" who is "compassionate and treats the people who work for him well." To boot, Mr. Barbour is "one of the smartest people" Cary knows "in politics."

With this critical information on the table Cary argues that Mr. Barbour's last minute pardon of hundreds of individuals, after 8 steady years of neglect of clemency powers "may be" (yes, those were her words) controversial, but "not illegal." [Insert John Phillip Sousa march].

Yes, in addition to arguing that Barbour had "every right to do what he did," Cary says the "uproar" that Barbour is "going through" right now is what causes presidents to give "fewer and fewer pardons."   [Enter standard reference to Alexander Hamilton - who wanted to hang the pardoned participants in the Whiskey Rebellion and Friesis Rebellion - and the Federalist Papers].

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Top Ten Clemency Stories of 2011

10. The West Memphis Three - The Three served almost 18 years before a plea deal allowed for their release. But, Governor Mike Beebe - one of the Nation's most steady dispensers of gubernatorial clemency - announced that he had no intention of granting a pardon. And he will only grant a pardon if there is "compelling evidence" that "someone else was responsible" for the murders the men were accused of.

9. 100,000 Application Backlog in Florida - The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a group which aims to have the State's Board of Executive Clemency "simplify" (and speed up) the application process estimates a backlog of 100,000 applications!

8. December Clemency - A study published by the author of this blog, in White House Studies, shows that 1 of every 2 pardons and commutations of sentence granted over the last 39 years has been granted in a single month: December.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Turkey Pardon Story?

Want a frivolous story on the stupid, disrespectful, offensive pardoning of a Thanksgiving Turkey?

Go elsewhere.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Obama: Just Too Busy for Mercy

James Buchanan granted 25 presidential pardons from the time South Carolina seceded from the Union and the Confederate States of America were formed (February 1861).

Abraham Lincoln took the time to grant 5 pardons in July of 1861, following the disastrous showing of Federal troops in the Battle of the First Bull Run. In early 1862, he granted 7 pardons while his 11-year old son, Willie, suffered (and eventually died) from typhoid fever. Lincoln also granted 3 pardons during the week of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Media's Willie Horton Problem

The Seattle Post Intelligencer recognizes the importance of the pardon power in presidential contests - as we did in a recent post - but draws some interesting, and sometimes odd, conclusions given that point. For example, it is suggested that if executive decision making falls short of utter and complete perfection, for all time, then there may very well be dire electoral consequences. Not so much because voters will hold former executives to such a lofty standard, but because "opposition research" and the traction it will gain in the media will make such a standard seem plausible and relevant.

The article refers to the "Willie Horton problem" (the image of "a violent or deranged felon run amok on their watch") and suggests "the issue of pardons and furloughs is one that could play an unexpected and damaging role for some campaigns" in 2012. We have never had any reason to doubt it!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

History Detectives, Second Appearance

This past week, the Editor of the PardonPower blog had the pleasure of traveling to the National Archives' Pacific Alaska Region facility in Seattle, Washington, and hooking up with the gang from the popular PBS television show History Detectives for the filming of an upcoming episode.

This time around (we participated in an earlier episode, during Season Seven), we worked with Dr. Eduardo Pagan, Bob Stump Endowed Professor of History at Arizona State University. The focus for our segment of the upcoming episode was a presidential pardon granted by Harry Truman. The episode will air this summer. Great fun. And an interesting experience all around!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Re: George Ryan

This morning, former Illinois Governor George Ryan was a hot topic on WLS talk shows. Don Wade and Roma (our personal favs) were quite divided on the issue of whether or not the 76-year-old Ryan should be allowed to attend the sickbed of his wife of 50 plus years. The former governor was given a 78-month prison sentence (he has served about 38 of them) following a jury's guilty verdict on a 22-count federal indictment for racketeering, bribery, extortion, money laundering and tax fraud and, of course, lying to investigators. Here is our perspective on the current scenario:

First, let it be said that crime very often causes a great deal of harm and suffering. It wrecks neighborhoods, destroys families, hinders economic development, launches individuals into emotional trauma and, many times, a lifetime of economic despair. Inevitably, along the way, innocent persons (victims, family members, friends) are affected negatively. That is what crime does. That is what it has always done. That is what it always will do. In a certain sense, George Ryan's suffering is not much different (much less significantly greater) than any of the 200,000 plus persons currently housed in federal prisons. There are, however, some important idiosyncrasies of his case that can (but should not be) lost in analyses that focus heavily on the suffering of Mrs. Ryan. It should be remembered, for example that:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Getting Out of the Self-Created Corner

In an era of booming prison populations and governmental overreach, executives (both state and federal) essentially paint themselves into a nasty little corner when they fail to exercise the pardon power on a regular basis, throughout the term, if not with some frequency. The consequences of such behavior are predictable and yet, to no small degree, almost completely avoidable. Governor Schwarzenegger's recent commutation of sentence for the son of a former state politician is a classic example of the problem and its symptoms. It also leads one easily enough to a very  logical solution.

First, let it be said that the sons and daughter of politicians deserve justice, and fair consideration, as much as anyone else. The same goes for a governor's (or president's) political allies, supporters, donors and party leaders. An individual should not be exempt from any possibility of clemency simply because they share enthusiastic support for the same party or political views as a governor, or president. That simply flies in the face of basic notions of justice.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Conservative Case for the Pardon Power

Right On Crime (added to our blog listing) is a new site which claims to focus on "Conservative" views of the criminal justice system. In particular, it takes an interest in reducing crime, reducing the costs of criminal justice, reforming past offenders, restoring victims and protecting communities. In its Statement of Principles, the site notes that "Conservatives are known for being tough on crime," but argues it is also vital to achieve "a cost-effective system that protects citizens, restores victims, and reforms wrongdoers." In addition:
The corrections system should emphasize public safety, personal responsibility, work, restitution, community service, and treatment—both in probation and parole, which supervise most offenders, and in prisons. An ideal criminal justice system works to reform amenable offenders who will return to society through harnessing the power of families, charities, faith-based groups, and communities.
With these very concerns (and others) in mind, here are some reasons why Conservatives should favor well-articulated clemency policies which 1) regularize the process and minimize the tendency toward last-minute blitzes 2) restore a proper balance between the branches of government 3) address the specific concerns of Conservatives and 4) re-educate the American public as to the significance of the pardon power:

Reason 1: The pardon power is explicitly vested in the President of the United States by Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution. It is not derived from a so-called "elastic clause" or inferred from penumbras emanating from the Bill of Rights. The pardon power is not the result of a "test" imposed by judicial fiat, or a goal-oriented construction of the traditions and conscience of the people, or tortured divination of what is implicit in the concept of ordered liberty. It is a power explicitly granted and as firmly entrenched in the Constitution as the provisions creating a House and Senate and the federal judiciary.

Reason 2: In addition to being an explicit feature of our Constitution, the Founding Fathers made a conscious effort to emphasize the importance of this power. Federalist 74 (authored by Alexander Hamilton, who argued for the pardon power in his first speech at the Constitutional Convention) notes that pardons are a logical by-product of "humanity and good policy." Why? Because "the criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity." The cure for this tendency? "Easy access" (yes, you read that right), "easy access" to "exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt." Otherwise, says Federalist 74, "justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel."

Reason 3: The pardon power is not a fetish of ancient monarchs that accidentally crept its way into the Constitution. It is an important part of our system of checks and balances. Although political scientists have long recognized that our government more accurately features "shared" powers (as opposed to truly "separated" powers), the fact of the matter is that each branch has its unassailable weapon in the system of checks and balances. The Supreme Court has judicial review. Congress has the spending power. The president has the pardon power. For centuries, pardons have made up for the lack of flexibility in laws, anticipating - long before Congress - such considerations as reformation and rehabilitation, the juvenile status of offenders, the possibility of insanity, the considerable costs of incarceration, degrees of guilt in relation to murder, etc. Of course, pardons have also been used to blunt the impact of imperfect decision making in the judicial branch. To be sure, Conservative Presidents - for whatever reason - can neglect this power. But they do so at a cost to our political system and in direct contradiction to the intent of the Founding Fathers.

Reason 4: Conservatives have long recognized the importance of incentives, even in the arena of crime and criminal justice. But the public (and, evidently, most in the news media) doesn't seem to be aware of the fact that the typical (as in well over 95 percent) recipient of a presidential (or gubernatorial) pardon, today (and for the last several decades), is someone who has already served their time (if there was any time to serve), has taken care of all associated fines and penalties, and has integrated back into the community as a law-abiding citizen. That is to say, presidential pardons are not springing hardened professional gangland criminals from our prisons and tossing them into the streets, or overturning the judgement of judges and juries. The impact of pardons is to simply restore the civil rights of applicants. The pardon allows them to vote again, serve on a jury, run for public office, own a hunting rifle, etc. The problem is, today, the typical presidential pardon is also granted more than two decades after the offense, when the applicant is probably in his/her 60's or 70's. This, in itself, prompts many to ask, "Why bother? Why does a person even want a pardon?" It is clear that presidential pardons, if granted on a more regular basis, and in a more relevant manner, could provide powerful incentives for hopeful recipients to demonstrate just the kind of reform Conservatives (and every American) should desire.

Reason 5: "Controversial" acts of clemency get the lion's share of attention from the news media, and reasonably so. But this kind of attention invariably warps the public's general perception of pardons and, to some extent, the perceptions of politicians (who tend to view pardons as huge political risks requiring some grand expenditure of political capital). But Conservatives should give a long hard look at recent pardon "controversies." Yes, Democratic presidents have dropped some stink bombs along the way. But, on the Republican side, there is Richard Nixon, the Iran-Contra figures, Scooter Libby, etc. These pardons have all had a distinct "political" feel to them. Indeed, along the way, Republicans frequently expressed concern that Democrats were hunting for "show trials" and "criminalizing" policy differences. If there is even the slightest element of truth to these claims, we must seriously ask: Where would this country be, today, without the pardon power?

Reason 6: Conservatives and Liberals may differ as to the effectiveness of the War on Drugs, but no one doubts that it has failed to accomplish all that was hoped for and that it is very costly. Recently, Democrats and Republicans rolled back the 100 to 1 disparity in crack cocaine sentencing, reducing the ratio to 18 to 1. While the criminal justice system is likely to be more fair, as a result, even the most basic notions of justice (Conservative or Liberal) demand that we now consider the circumstances of those who were convicted under the previous legislation (almost 30,000 inmates). Congress has probably done all that it is going to do in this matter. It is the president who should now consider the careful, systematic use of the pardon power (or, more specifically, commutations of sentence) in individual cases - at a minimum - for first time, non-violent offenders who have already served considerable sentences and show evidence of rehabilitation (just as an example). In addition to approximating fairness, such use of the pardon power could save tax payers millions of dollars.

Reason 7: In recent years, some Conservatives have rethought their position on the death penalty. On the surface, it does seem quite odd that an ideology which seems to instinctively distrust the government would express such enthusiastic support for a process like capital punishment. Conservatives loath the growth of government and the expansion of its power. Catch phrases like "the nanny state" and "over-criminalization" are often employed by Conservative columnists. Or, in the very words of Right on Crime:
Thousands of harmless activities are now classified as crimes in the United States. These are not typical common law crimes such as murder, rape, or theft. Instead they encompass a series of business activities such as importing orchids without the proper paperwork, shipping lobster tails in plastic bags, and even failing to return a library book. There are over 4,000 existing federal criminal laws. (The exact number of laws is unknown because the attorneys at Congressional Research Service who were assigned to count them ran out of resources before they could complete the herculean task.)

In addition to the profusion of federal statutory crimes, there are additional state crimes (Texas alone has over 1,700), and federal regulatory offenses (approximately 300,000). The creation of these often unknowable and redundant crimes, the federalization of certain crimes traditionally prosecuted at the state level, and the removal of traditional mens rea requirements all contribute to a relentless trend known as overcriminalization.
Message to Conservatives: When George Washington worried that the government's charges of treason against the Whiskey Rebels were too Draconian, he pardoned them. When Thomas Jefferson thought the Alien Sedition Acts went too far, he promised, if elected, to pardon those who were convicted. As soon as he became president he pardoned the last individuals who were still being held for writing bad things about John Adams. When Woodrow Wilson had his veto of the Volstead Act overridden, he set records for pardons of individuals who violated drug and alcohol laws. When John F. Kennedy thought mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders were too harsh, he granted pardons accordingly. Jimmy Carter promised a blanket amnesty for Vietnam draft offenders and delivered. It is quite obvious that, if Conservative presidents (and governors) ever decide to get serious about addressing the problems associated with government overreach, the pardon power is there, waiting.

Reason 8: Since the "law and order" campaigns of Richard Nixon, Conservatives have placed every seemingly "soft on crime" politician on the radar. When crime was among the highest concerns of Americans in Gallup polls (the 1960s and 1970s), it was clearly a strategy that worked, at many levels. Would Conservative presidents be going "soft" on crime if they granted pardons - as most presidents have throughout history - frequently, and on a regular basis throughout, the calendar year? There is certainly no doubt that someone, somewhere will make the accusation, especially if a single pardon recipient (out of no matter how many hundreds, or thousands) commits an additional offense. On the other hand, if pardons are granted more frequently, and on a regular basis, the American public (and the media) will quickly learn what has largely been forgotten: again, the typical pardon does not spring anyone from prison. It simply restores rights. An additional benefit of a more regular use of the pardon power is that pardons granted to the president's friends, fellow partisans and political supporters (all of which deserve justice and fair consideration as much as anyone else) will appear less significant. In general, the fewer pardons granted, the more obnoxious such pardons will appear (rightly or wrongly).

Should Conservatives take the lead on this matter? Should they take the risk, when it is much easier to simply do nothing? For the sake of the purity of our political system, in order to benefit from the wisdom of our Founding Fathers, in order to pursue justice and economic efficiency in the criminal justice system and in order to better articulate concerns with / and combat the ever invasive expansion of government ... the answer is clearly "yes."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sad. Just Downright Sad.

As if it is not already wretched enough that presidents have stupidly been pardoning fat turkeys for years, we have to also be cursed with extensive media reporting on where the turkeys come from, what they look like and where they are going ... ugh!

So far, President Obama has had 3,482 new applications for pardons and commutations of sentence and over 3,000 applications were pending at the beginning of fiscal year (2010). But the National media have given much more attention to the quirky names of pardoned turkeys.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

On a Lighter Note: Highly Recommended

The Editor of the PardonPower blog highly recommends The Wit and Humour of Political Science, just published by the ECPR Press (United Kingdom).

This delightful volume includes contributions by some of the true legends of the discipline, as well as the Editor of this blog. It covers an impressively wide range of issues related to the discipline and should become an instant cult-classic for graduate students world-wide.

Order your copies now by clicking here!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Jan Brewer's "Personal" Justice: A Real Creature Feature

Occasionally (some say not enough, others say all too often), an execution takes place in the United States. These episodes are often accompanied by a flurry of last-minute appeals to courts, clemency boards and/or governors. When it is clear that the final call will be made by the governor, one can just about always expect some kind of formal statement, explaining the decision to allow the process to go forward without interruption.

These public statements are the byproduct of external and internal forces. Polls have consistently shown that a majority of Americans favor the death penalty. Governors are certainly aware of this. So, however grim the circumstances, most of them probably feel comfortable issuing what they know will be widely publicized statements which tap into the potentially beneficial stream of majoritarian politics.

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