Despite his recent decision to commute the sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, an administration official convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, George W. Bush has made remarkably little use of his clemency powers. That hasn’t been for lack of plausible candidates. Bush has overseen a dramatic increase in the number of drug war incarcerations under mandatory minimum sentencing rules that send people who commit small crimes or have the wrong friends to jail for a decade. Bill Clinton’s acts of clemency included 48 drug offenders, among them his half-brother Roger.
Franklin Roosevelt tops the list of pardon-granting presidents, with 3,687 acts of clemency (about 300 per year) during his presidency—many for criminals who served in the war. But even low-key Calvin Coolidge logged a surprising 1,545, some 285 per year.
Most pardons and commutations are now granted in the final year of office, so Bush still has time to catch up with his immediate predecessors and clean up some of the mess made by mandatory minimums, even if he’s unlikely to demonstrate Rooseveltian—or even Reaganesque—levels of mercy.