Showing posts with label Kennedy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kennedy. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Obama's Abysmal Record on Pardons

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge

White House PR Chart Fail

When the White House does clemency PR ... ten ... nine ... whatever.

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge
"We're none of us perfect." - Homer Simpson. If we are making comparisons, very oddly, to recent presidents (none particularly known to be generous with the pardon power), we believe that it might also be worth noting that President Obama has received many more applications for commutations than his predecessors (see chart below). Comparable data are not available before Nixon.

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge

Friday, August 16, 2013

JFK Stuff: Powerful, Dramatic ... Wrong.

We have noted John F. Kennedy's pardon of jazz great Hampton Hawes (here and here and here). So we are pleased to see this piece appear at the DailyBeast, entitled, "The Jazz Pianist that John F. Kennedy Saved," and written by Ted Gioia The piece begins with an anecdotes suggesting Hawes heard John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address while serving a ten year sentence for a drug conviction. Hawes supposedly said, in response, "That’s the right cat ... looks like he got some soul and might listen” and decided that he would apply for a presidential pardon! Notes Gioia:
Against all odds, President Kennedy responded. Although many major jazz stars spent time in prison on narcotics charges during the middle decades of the 20th century, only Hawes received a presidential pardon. Fifty years ago, on August 16, 1963, JFK granted executive clemency to the pianist, and thus allowed one of the most talented jazz artists of the era to resume his career. The Hawes pardon would be one of Kennedy’s last executive acts. Only 98 days later, Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK in Dallas, not far from the prison Hawes recently left. Kennedy only granted clemency to 43 people during his last year in office. Hawes received pardon number 42.
It sure would be nice to know who the "many major jazz stars" were, but we know pardons, And we know pardon data. That's what we do.

Hampton Hawes' clemency warrant is actually dated August 14th (not the 16th - click on image to the left to see an image of the warrant). Hawes was not one of only 43 people granted clemency in Kennedy's last year in office (year three of the term). Kennedy granted 268 pardons that year. If the author meant a twelve-month period, the figure is 268. And after the day Hawes was pardoned, President Kennedy went on to grant 78 additional pardons before being assassinated. Goodness.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Obama: More Dubious Pardon History-Making

President Obama's first term has now ended and, along the way, his administration tied Bill Clinton's first term for the fewest months featuring grants of either pardons or commutations of sentence. Obama granted a mere 22 pardons and 1 commutation of sentence, the lowest number for a full term for any president since George Washington! And he (Obama) did it all in just three months. The remaining 46 months of the term were a complete wash.

It will now be interesting to see just how far clemency dysfunction continues. In the first term. Obama also strung together 23 consecutive months without granting a single act of clemency. The length of the drought tied George W. Bush's first term for the longest of any modern president. Obama is currently riding a 14-month string of inaction.

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     46       23

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.
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.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Obama: The No Commutation of Sentence President

Only George W. Bush waited longer than President Obama to grant the first act of clemency in his term. To date, Obama has granted a paltry 17 presidential pardons (largely restoring the civil rights of persons who committed minor offenses decades ago) and zero commutations of sentence.

President              Days before First Commutation of Sentence
-----------              ---------------------------------------------------------
Obama                1,004 ... and counting
Clinton                  672
Reagan                  317
Eisenhower           282
Nixon                    282
H.W. Bush             206
Carter                    82
Ford (s)                  61
Truman (s)             54
Johnson (s)            30
Kennedy                 19

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Granting the First Commutation of Sentence

Over the last 12 presidencies, there has been an average of 329 days between inauguration and the granting of the first commutation of sentence. This number is, of course, heavily skewed by the data for the administration of George W. Bush - the slowest president in American history to grant any form of clemency. Excluding that administration, the number falls all of the way to 249. Regardless, the delay in the Obama administration - despite record numbers of applications for commutation of sentence - is more than twice the average for these recent administrations.

Assumed Office
Date of First Commutation of Sentence
Number of Days Till
First Commutation
H.W. Bush
W. Bush
- - -
735 and counting …

* These data represent the result of a preliminary run - at the request of media - through an original data set on presidential pardons from 1789 to 2011. The author will edit / amend / correct the data after additional research, should the need arise.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Decline in Christmas Clemency?

In December of 1999, an article in Christian Science Monitor suggested that, in recent years, there has been a decline in "Christmas Clemency." The article was generally based on the fact that President Clinton had gone a couple of Decembers without granting any pardons or commutations of sentence. Otherwise, no data were presented on the topic.

Using our own original data, we have calculated the total number of December pardons and commutations of sentence, by year and administration, from 1945 (Truman) to 2010 (Obama). Click on the image to the left.

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."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Obama: 60 Days from Making History

President Barack Obama has now gone 612 days without granting a single presidential pardon or commutation of sentence. Almost 2,000 applications are pending and a couple of thousand more are new and fresh.

In 60 days, however, President Obama will pass Bill Clinton (whose administration made quite the mark when it came to pardons), and will become the slowest Democratic President in American history to discover the clemency power.

It only took John F. Kennedy 19 days to do so. Carter waited 82 days. Harry Truman needed only 8 days after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, and only 6 days after being elected. Woodrow Wilson took only 9 days. Lyndon Johnson only waited 30 days after the death of John F. Kennedy.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Incorrect Open Letter Sent Incorrectly to Obama is featuring an "open letter" to President Obama. Along the way, the letter mentions a "Saudi student" named Humeidan Al-Turki, who has, evidently, lost an appeal of his case to the Supreme Court. The letter notes that John F. Kennedy pardoned Hank Greenspan, "the leader of a smuggling network of arms to Israel." It notes that Gerald Ford pardoned President Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush pardoned Orlando Bosch, "one of the most aggressive terrorists who had masterminded the bombing of a civilian aircraft, one of his many terrorist acts." Finally, it notes that Bill Clinton pardoned Al Schwimmer "who was accused of organizing a network smuggling arms to Israel" and George W. Bush "issued a pardon" I. Lewis Libby "after being indicted on lying and perjury charges, the most ugly charges in the dictionary of American justice."

The letter then asks, rhetorically:
Mr. President, is the Saudi student’s (presumably accused of harassing his maid) action more serious than charges of those convicted of election fraud, bombing planes, lying, and possession and smuggling of arms and drugs?
PardonPower offers the following information as a public service: 1. At this point, Humeidan Al-Turki is not "presumably accused." He is, instead, convicted of aggravated sexually harassment of his Indonesian maid while keeping her in a condition of forced labor / servitude all for a wage of less than two dollars a day. He has also been sentenced to a prison term of 28 years. 2. Al-Turki was convicted in the State of Colorado, in Arapahoe County, in a state court, not a federal U.S. District Court. President Obama, however, cannot pardon persons convicted of state crimes. For information on clemency in the State of Colorado, follow this link3. George H.W. Bush did not pardon Orlando Bosch. For that matter 4. George W. Bush did not pardon Mr. Libby either. Bush merely commuted the prison sentence portion of Libby's punishment. See full "open letter" here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Obama Signs the Not As Much Unfair Sentencing Act

Like many other politicians, President Obama has, in the past, expressed very specific and serious sounding concerns about sentencing disparities in crack/powder cocaine law. For that reason, some had hope that he would employ the pardon power as John F. Kennedy. However, 560 days into the term, the Obama Justice Department has actually not shown a single sign that it is even aware that the pardon power is in the Constitution. Today, Obama has agreed with Congress' efforts to address the problem, by signing the Fair Sentencing Act - which, the careful observer will note, still allows for unfair sentencing, but just not as much! The disparity has simply been reduced from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1. The edges could could certainly be smoothed out through systematic use of the clemency, but that might be more hope and change than possible.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Director Who Could (or Would) Not Count

Robert Kennedy once boasted that he and his brother “made a real major effort and really major breakthrough” when it came to pardons and commutations. The notion was certainly enhanced by James V. Bennett’s 1970 book entitled I Chose Prison. Bennett, who served as Director of the Bureau of Prisons from 1937 to 1964, praised Kennedy for his exceptional “compassion.” He also claimed that his fellow Democrat “used his powers of granting executive clemency more often than any other President in our history.”

The observation may have appeared all the more impressive by the fact that, at the time Bennett’s book was published, the pardoning power seemed to be a thing of the past. Lyndon Johnson granted no pardons in the last seven months of his administration and Richard Nixon pardoned no one in his first nine months as president.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Scales Commutation: Bravery? or Mere Bureaucracy?

Junius Scales was a native of Greensboro, North Carolina, a member of a prominent family and a graduate of the University of North Carolina. But he was also a Communist. That caused him some grief.

Scales found himself indicted on the charge that, from January 1946 to November 18, 1954, he was a member of the Communist Party with knowledge that it advocated violent overthrow of the government. On April 22, 1955, he was sentenced him to six years in prison. On March 26, 1956, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Scales’ appeal. As the case sat on the Court’s docket, Scales renounced his membership in the Party, observing that he was “shaken” by revelations of Stalin’s terror. The Court reversed Scales’ conviction on October 15, 1957, but did not rule on the constitutionality of the membership clause of the so-called Smith Act.

Scales’ striking victory was short-lived.

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