Showing posts with label G.W. Bush. Show all posts
Showing posts with label G.W. Bush. Show all posts

Sunday, January 20, 2013

SHOCK: Obama's Pardon Disaster. The Merciless Term

Barack Obama's first term has come to an end and we are now ready to report that his four-years as president represent the least merciful term for any modern president (Democrat or Republican) and, quite possibly, the least merciful in the entire history of the United States (see footnote below).

This is, of course, an incredible distinction for a president who repeatedly notes that America is a place where people get "second chances," from a president who complained bitterly about overly-harsh sentences given to criminal defendants simply because they were African-American, and from a president who promised us "hope and change."

Will the second term be like (or worse than) the first? Frankly, there are very few signs that anything will change in any significant way - save the conventional wisdom that presidents tend to wax irresponsible in the fourth and final year of the term and are subject to a world of pressure from interested parties (resulting in last-minute pardon splurges). In sum, we appear to be on the track to an equally merciless second term and/or a Clintonesque pardon disaster.

THE LEAST MERCIFUL 4-YEAR TERMS IN AMERICAN HISTORY

President
Term
Individual Acts of Clemency
(Pardons, Commutations of Sentence, Respites)
1
George Washington *
First
0
2
Barack Obama
First
23
3
George Washington
Second
28
4
George W. Bush
First
31
5
John Adams
Only
37
6
Thomas Jefferson
First
48
7
Bill Clinton
First
56
8
George H.W. Bush
Only
77
9
Thomas Jefferson
Second
80
10
James Madison
Second
112


* These data are based on Professor Ruckman's original data set, collected from copies of State Department clemency warrants found on Microfilm Set T969, National Archives, the Annual Report of the U.S. Attorney General and a CD set of clemency warrants issued by the Office of the Pardon Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice. Recently, George Lardner has uncovered additional acts of clemency in the first term of George Washington, suggesting State Department records may be incomplete, at least for that administration. There is no additional evidence of overlooked actions in any other administration.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

What will a Merciless December Mean for Obama?

If President Obama fails to grant a single pardon or commutation of sentence this month (December), he will come ever closer to matching Bill Clinton's record of 46 months in a term without an act of clemency. Obama has already tied George W. Bush's record for the most consecutive months (23) without a pardon or commutation of sentence.
President
Months Featuring   Clemency (of 49)
Months Without Clemency (of 49) Most  Consecutive Months Without Clemency
F. Roosevelt (1)    45     4        4
F. Roosevelt (2)    37     12        11
F. Roosevelt (3)    44      5        1
FDR / Truman (s)    46     3        1
Truman (1)    49     -        -
Eisenhower (1)    25     24        7
Eisenhower (2)    14     35        7
Kennedy / Johnson (s)    40     9        3
Johnson (1)    23     26        7
Nixon (1)    5     44        13
Nixon (2) / Ford (s)    17     32        9 
Carter    31     18        5
Reagan (1)    17     32        8
Reagan (2)    31     17        5
Bush    5     44       18
Clinton (1)    3     46         22
Clinton (2)    11     38       11
Bush (1)    7     42       23
Bush (2)    13     36       7
Obama    3     45*       23

* January remaining in the term.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Once Again: Let Us Be the First to Complain !

In a few days, possibly late Friday afternoon, we guess the White House will dump a handful of tepid, obligatory "Christmas pardons." It may not happen, of course, but 1 of every 2 individual acts of clemency granted over the last 39 years has been granted in the month of December (chart) and it is fairly rare for a president to go the entire month without granting at least one (chart). We would also expect most (if not all) of the acts of clemency to be pardons (as opposed to commutations of sentence) and that the recipients will be persons convicted of minor / non-violent offenses, years (if not decades) ago. The pardons will thus simply restore their rights as they ride through retirement.

These acts (should they even emerge) will represent a very unimpressive punctuation mark to a sorry effort by the Obama administration or, as it is known, the administration of "hope and change."

President Obama waited longer than any Democratic president in history to grant his first pardon (chart). Chances are, even with a few more pardons at the end of this week, his first term will log in as one as the most merciless since the single term of John (unpopular-war-Alien-Sedition-Acts-last-minute-appointment) Adams (chart).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

SHOCK ! O.I.G. Blasts U.S. Pardon Attorney

The Office of the Inspector General has released a 21-page report entitled, "Review of the Pardon Attorney's Reconsideration of  Clarence Aaron's Petition for Clemency." Aaron, of course, has been on our Pardon Watch List for years now. We have posted a link to the entire document below, but find the following passages particularly relevant:

Page 15 : " ... Rodgers did not represent Rhodes's views accurately to the White House in his e-mail on December 3, 2008. We believe that Rodgers's characterization of Rhodes's position was colored by his concern [that] the White House might grant Aaron 'clemency presently' and his desire that this not happen ... Rodgers's email to the White House, approved by the Counsel downplayed the significance of U.S. Attorney Rhodes's views [as] 'slightly revised ... In fact, the change was dramatic ... In the email, Rodgers also stated that Rhodes believed that Aaron's commutation request was 10 years premature. This was not an accurate characterization of what Rhodes wrote. In doing so, Rodgers told the White House - inaccurately - that Rhodes was opposed to President Bush commuting Aaron's sentence."

Page 16 : "Rhodes thus clearly contemplated that Aaron would serve less than 25 years if his sentence was commuted to that length. Rodgers's email completely omitted this important aspect of Rhodes's recommendation, which was consistent with immediate commutation to a sentence of 25 years ... Rodgers should not have characterized it as he did. He should have acknowledged that ambiguity in his email and relied on his own arguments, instead of indicating inaccurately that Rhodes agreed with him that the petition was ' about 10 years premature' and should be denied ... Furthermore, Rodgers never conveyed [concern] about 'administrative problems' to the White House, nor did he make any record ...

Page 17 : "... of it in Decembers 2008 ... Rodgers's inaccurate description of Rhodes's letter in his email to the White House would have been even worse but for the editing provided by the Counsel ... We also believe that Rodgers's choice of words in the emails to describe Judge Butlers's position ran the risk of misleading the White House about the sentencing judge's position ... We concluded that the primary responsibility for the inaccuracies and ambiguity in the email that was sent to the White House ultimately lies with Rodgers, the author ...

Page 21 : In sum, we concluded that pardon Attorney Rodgers did not accurately represent the views of U.S. Attorney Deborah Rhodes in his e-mail to the White House recommending against a commutation of Aaron's sentence ... Rodgers did not represent Rhodes's position accurately, and his conduct fell substantially short of the high standards to be expected of Department of Justice employees and of the duty that he owed to the President of the United States."

See full O.I.G. report (in .pdf format) here.

Friday, November 2, 2012

President Sitting on a Dozen Positive Recommendations

According to ProPublica:
Currently, two government officials said, there are about a dozen positive recommendations and hundreds of negative ones waiting for the president to act on.
No specific sources are named for this information, but it certainly suggests there is no coming pardon bonanza. Only more of the same dysfunction and neglect.

ProPublica also features calculations based on Department of Justice data. We made the same calculations, from the same data, way back in a July post:

President
Granted Pardon Applications
Granted Commutation Applications
All Applications
Nixon
1 in every 2
1 in every 15
1 in every 3
Ford
1 in every 3
1 in every 25
1 in every 4
Carter
1 in every 3
1 in every 36
1 in every 5
Reagan
1 in every 5
1 in every 100
1 in every 8
H.W. Bush
1 in every 10
1 in every 245
1 in every 19
Clinton
1 in every 5
1 in every 90
1 in every 16
W. Bush
1 in every 13
1 in every 779
1 in every 55
Obama
1 in every 61
1 in every 6,762
1 in every 352

* Data updated 2/4/13

Thursday, October 4, 2012

October: Not a Chance!

It is October!

Want a pardon or commutation of sentence? Too bad.

For three years, Barack Obama has not granted a single pardon or commutation of sentence in the month of October. Over eight years, George W. Bush granted zero in the month of October. But, actually, it gets better. Bill Clinton granted a total of seven pardons across his eight years in office during the month of October - all seven of them being granted in October of 2000. In his four years as president, George H.W. Bush granted zero pardons and commutations in the month of October.

What does it all mean? It means, across 23 years, four different presidents, both Republican and Democrat have issued a grand total of 7 pardons in the month of October. Since all of them were granted by one president, in a single October, it means 22 of the last 23 Octobers have featured zero pardons and commutations. The odds appear better that the Great Pumpkin himself might appear. Maybe this year Linus!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Oregon: Mercy? I Don't Want No Stinkin' Mercy!

The Associated Press reports that Gov. John Kitzhaber has blocked Gary Haugen's execution with a "reprieve" (or a delay). While such decisions are not particularly rare, this one has an interesting twist to it: Haugen (a twice-convicted murderer) did not ask for the delay, and does not want it! The lack of interest on Haugen's part is consistent with the fact that he has "voluntarily waived legal appeals that could delay his execution for years and has fought to speed his punishment in protest of a criminal justice system that he says is broken." The Governor ... agrees! Yes, the Governor believes capital punishment laws are "compromised and inequitable."

Haugen's attorney says the governor's delay has placed an "onerous condition" his client, who now sits on "death row," unsure as to whether or not he will ever actually be executed! The horror! The attorney also argues that a reprieve "is not effective until accepted by the recipient" and Haugen has choosen not to accept. Finally, it is argued that the reprieve is "illegal" because it has "no specific expiration date."

Monday, July 2, 2012

Clemency Grant Rates: Recent Presidents

Clemency Grant Rates by
Pardon Applications, Commutation Applications and All Applications
"1 in every x applications granted"

President
Granted Pardon Applications
Granted Commutation Applications
All Applications
Nixon
1 in every 2
1 in every 15
1 in every 3
Ford
1 in every 3
1 in every 25
1 in every 4
Carter
1 in every 3
1 in every 36
1 in every 5
Reagan
1 in every 5
1 in every 100
1 in every 8
H.W. Bush
1 in every 10
1 in every 245
1 in every 19
Clinton
1 in every 5
1 in every 90
1 in every 16
W. Bush
1 in every 13
1 in every 779
1 in every 55
Obama
1 in every 50
1 in every 5,557
1 in every 290

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Barrett Attempts to "Bush" Walker

For decades, political scientists have been concerned that the media generally cannot be relied upon to report on matters related to executive clemency without misrepresentation, egregious errors of omission, sensationalism and the like. Politicians are, of course, well aware of the legitimate foundation of such concerns and - at the cost of fair and proper public understanding of clemency - exploit the circumstance for partisan advantage.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Tuesday's gubernatorial recall election "could see the highest turnout for that office in more than a half-century." So, for no legitimate reason whatsoever, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D), who is trying to unseat Scott Walker (R), says:
"I want to be certain that we're not going to have this election and he's going to turn around and pardon all these aides of his who have been charged ... I just want him to say that he's never going to pardon any of these people. These are close associates of his."
It was reminiscent of the over-the-top smears thinly disguised as thoughtful speculation which attended the end of the Bush administration. Bush was supposed to pardon every Republican in federal prison, as well as every one who might ever be charged from here to eternity. The speculation feeding frenzy was certainly a real treat for idiots (see our delightful chronicling of their stupidity here), but not very beneficial for the reputation of the pardon power and public understanding.

Unfortunately, Walker (who has yet to grant a single pardon!) has responded:
"I have said repeatedly I'm not issuing pardons on anything. Period." 
When, he should have said:
"I have used the powers of my office responsibly to date and no one has any reason to think that, in the future, I will do otherwise. As such I will neither be coached nor harassed as to how to use, or not use, the solemn powers vested in me by the State Constitution. I will use, or not use, the power exactly as I see fit."
That is the only serious answer any public official should give to those who want to soil such an important topic with the boots of political expediency. Run your campaign, Mr. Barrett. Just shut up about the possibility of preemptive, best-buddy, double secret, unprecedented fantasy pardons. See story here.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Typical Outcomes of Clemency Requests Per Fiscal Year


Monday, January 16, 2012

Post / Pro Publica Not Quite Right on Obama

In a recent editorial by the Washington Post(here) that was quoted at ProPublica (here), it is observed that:
Mr. Obama is on track to underperform President George W. Bush, who issued a measly 189 pardons during his two terms in office — the stingiest record of any two-term president since World War II.
We beg to differ with this dramatic observation, for several reasons. Today is day 1,091 in the Obama administration. And, to date, the President has granted 22 pardons and one commutation of sentence. Although it is true that George W. Bush granted 189 by the time he left office (after eight complete years), he had actually only granted 11 pardons by this point (the 1,091 th day) of his administration.

As a result, President Obama is actually ahead of George W. Bush's rather sorry pace.

Second, there is no apparent reason for clipping the context of presidential pardons "since World War II." We now know that George W. Bush was the most stingy two-term president since Thomas Jefferson (that would be president number three).

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.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Morison on the Clemency Process

Over at the blog of the American Constitution Society, Sam Morison, former attorney-adviser in the Office of the Pardon Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, has written an excellent piece on the pardon power, with emphasis on current problems and a view toward the future.

Among other things, Morison notes the "hornbook account" of the pardon power as a "nearly absolute prerogative of the President" is "a bit misleading" because:
In fact, the President’s immediate legal staff does not have the resources to properly evaluate the hundreds of clemency cases that are filed annually. Instead, by longstanding practice, the President has delegated this responsibility to career officials in the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney. Pursuant to rules promulgated by the President, clemency applicants are required to submit their petitions to the pardon office, which, in turn, exercises firm control over the flow of information to the White House.
Morison adds that the office "does not view its role as a neutral arbiter." Instead,
it exploits the asymmetry of information to protect the Department’s institutional prerogatives, churning out a steady stream of almost uniformly negative advice, regardless of the merits of any particular case. In effect, this amounts to little more than an effort to restrain (rather than inform) the President’s exercise of discretion. The implicit message is clear: you will either do as we suggest, Mr. President, or you’re on your own. It is a singularly efficient system. Generally speaking, the President feels compelled to adhere to the Department’s advice, even while privately chaffing at the bit. 
Thus, George W. Bush received about 11,000 clemency petitions and only 189 pardons and 11 commutations were granted. The solution? Morison offers:
The fundamental issue is this: who will exercise effective control over this broad discretionary power, the President or a small cadre of anonymous bureaucrats in the Justice Department? Historically, the pardon advisory function has been housed in the Department entirely as a matter of administrative convenience, pursuant to the President’s authority under the Pardon Clause. Whatever utility this arrangement once had, the structural deficiencies in the existing advisory system have rendered it dysfunctional. Under the circumstances, I submit that the President has a constitutional obligation to remove the advisory role from the Justice Department, and reconstitute it within the Executive Office of the President, where it can operate without the burden of an entrenched conflict of interest.
See full editorial here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Race and Pardons: Some of Our Concerns

By now, the well-known headline is that race matters when it comes to applying for a presidential pardon. Or, at least it did, in the administration of George W. Bush! The proposition emerges from a statistical analysis of 494 pardon applications which were acted upon (granted or denied) by Bush. The research was done by ProPublica and readers can read ProPublica's summary of the data here. Some have expressed "surprise" at the findings, although it is our sense that racial disparities are all-too commonplace in research on the criminal justice system. It some contexts, they have almost reached the level of "assumption" (e.g. disparities in sentencing, death penalty).

Nonetheless, we feel comfortable accepting the findings of this self-proclaimed "first systematic analysis of pardons" (all apologies to Posner and Landes, Humbert, Whitford and Ochs, Erler and the rest) with great caution, at least until some additional information is known. Indeed, the analysis raises several obvious questions (see ProPublica's abbreviated discussion of the data here) which cannot be ignored for long.

For starters, this is clearly an exercise in barefoot empiricism. If you are looking for theoretical insight, look elsewhere. Which is fine, in some circumstances, to a degree. But we are not so certain that the literature on criminal processes and executive clemency (yes, there really is one!) is so sparse, and immature, as to justify too much unguided exploration via flashlight. As demonstrated below, the model pays little or no heed to what has already been discovered / is known regarding the pardon process. And the result is a non-parsimonious statistical model that features almost a dozen variables that are not statistically significant, at traditional levels.

Despite discussion in the text of numerous articles covering this study - in the multivariate analysis - the odds ratio statistics for the bankruptcy and marriage variables are actually insignificant, while the odds ratio for probation/prison is significant. The data on the age of applicants (although apparently collected by researchers) were not actually used in the analysis (see "UPDATE" below). But, while one is searching through social background characteristics, why not control for education levels? Indeed, clemency petitions frequently emphasize the attainment of this or that degree post-conviction. It is certainly possible that such data were not available, but this omission should not go unnoticed.

As the basic assumptions of linear regression are not applicable in logistic regression, the display of a pseudo R-square in the multivariate analysis (while fun) is not, without more, particularly enlightening. In addition, seeing how the data in both the sample and the population are heavily skewed (91 percent of the applications being denied), a more interesting (pertinent) thing to know would be the proportion in reduction of error. PRE statistics tell us how much the model improves our ability to classify outcomes (denials or grants) over mere guessing. And, again, if we guess every application will be denied, we will be right 91 percent of the time. So - at a minimum - the provision of a classification table (standard output in logistic analysis) would be helpful (see "UPDATE" section below).

Given all of what we now know about the timing of pardons (which is far from accidental), it seems peculiar that the analysis does not control for when applications were filed in the Department of Justice, or when they were presented to White House. There are no controls for the applications filed or presented in the fourth and final year of the term, the time when we know most presidents have granted the largest number of pardons. A counter variable could have easily tested the relationship between grants and length of term. One out of every two pardons for the last 39 years has been granted in the month of December. The published work of Posner and Landes give attention to these concerns, yet this analysis appears blind on this point.

On a related point, the U.S. Attorney was, somewhat dramatically, replaced in the Bush administration but there doesn't seem to have been any interest in testing the potential impact ("shock") of the administrative disruption caused by that event in the model.

One aspect of the data that has received particular attention in the press is "congressional support." But - despite the vast literature on party capability in the legal process - the analysis does not appear to take into account legal representation (or lack of representation) in the application process (a factor which might very well be correlated with the race of the applicant).

Even then, as we understand it, "congressional support" is operationalized in the study as 1) forwarding an application or 2) supporting it. But these strike us as two very different things. Furthermore, having looked over some of the correspondence at ProPublica, we are not convinced that there is a clear line between the two. Consequently, we wonder what percentage of the almost 200 instances of "congressional support" were categorized by ProPublica as mere forwarding exercises, and what percentage clearly involved something more like traditional advocacy (information not reported by ProPublica)? See commentary in "UPDATE" below. And, of course, we wonder what were the differences in outcomes for each category, if any (again, not reported)? Our concern, of course, is that advocacy (in the normal sense of the language) did not have any particular impact and, as a result, its impact - at least arguably - is now being much overstated by the media. In addition, we wonder if contacting a member of Congress might not actually be a surrogate measure for several other factors (education, race, quality of the application, strength of the argument in the application, etc.) which might have an impact on the outcome of applications.

ProPublica reports that it could determine the race of only 54 (27 percent) of the 200 applicants with "congressional support." And yet it has the audacity to report "Congressional influence did not account for the racial disparity" in outcomes. It would seem this is a conclusion as of yet untested.

It appears the data in this analysis do not control for whether or not the member of Congress is in the House or the Senate, or even the party identification of each member (how counter-intuitive!). As we understand it, it is ProPublica's position that, since applications are sent to the OPA, officials in the Department of Justice and the Executive Office of the White House are simply unaware of this kind of information. First, it should be noted that ProPublica explicitly rejects the same logic with respect to race (even the White House claims it is unaware of the race of applicants). Second, by this theory, George Bush would have been completely oblivious to the fact that a Republican Senator from Texas was strongly in support of an application. By this theory, it is also a complete coincidence that 8 of the top 10 supposedly clemency-supporting congressmen during the Bush administration were Republican. We respectfully disagree with this line of thought. Similarly, it is well known that President Bush granted the largest number pardons to applicants from Texas (currently, Illinois leads with President Obama). But such considerations appear to have been ignored in this analysis as well. Of course, one also wonders about a possible interaction effect between such variables. In sum, we wonder what the impact of race would be (if any) in a multivariate model that is a little more smartly specified.

For the most part, these nuts and bolts questions leave aside numerous theoretical concerns which, we suspect, will be attended to, once the initial rush of sensational headlines passes. There might, for example, be a very significant self-selection process in operation when it comes to contacting members of Congress. Consequently, the "congressional support" variable may very well say more about the kinds of people who contact members of Congress (as well as the overall quality of their applications) than it does about the impact of the mere use of Congressional stationery. Similarly, before we assert a direct relationship between race and outcomes, it seems practical to also explore (or at least think about) indirect effects. In due course.

UPDATE: 12/9/2011, This afternoon two writers for the ProPublica piece were kind enough to call me to provide me their responses to some of the concerns expressed above. They were also open to fielding some questions. As I understand it, they are not willing - at least currently - to release even a classification results table (in order to assess goodness of fit, or the proportion reduction in error). Nor are they willing to share - at least currently - a correlation matrix for the final model. While this would all be somewhat peculiar behavior for an author in my own discipline (political science), I understand that the world of journalism is (and is certainly allowed to be) very different. On the other hand, there is no small irony to such hopefully unnecessary stone-walling (see second paragraph here).

I should also note the neither of the persons that I spoke with explicitly claimed to be responsible for running the statistical analysis, or claimed to have any degree of expertise with logistic regression. ProPublica reports (here) that the Department of Justice is "reviewing" its statistical analysis, but I cannot imagine that it is much of a review without such basic information as descriptive statistics, a classification results table or a correlation matrix (all standard output in programs that perform logistic regression

I also asked about the distribution of applications which were merely forwarded by members of Congress v. those which involved substantive support. I was told those data were not "at hand," but that I was tersely welcomed to wade through copies of letters on the ProPublica web page and arrive at a determination of the figures (and, I suppose, all decision making rules) myself

Finally, it was made clear to me that ProPublica, however annoyed with me, was very little concerned about any of the issues that I have raised because, to date, I appear to be the only person who has such concerns. It was furthermore noted that, when the DOJ performed its own recent review of clemency in the Bush administration, I was not consulted. I took all of that to mean exactly what I think it was intended to mean, however awkward its delivery, but had to chuckle as it was ProPublica who called me! and asked me to share information freely! More importantly, and more personally satisfying, I say to readers who know me, and those who are familiar with the history and impact of this blog, one word  ... "respite." :-) Thus, the little blog that can marches on, cheerfully!

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