Barack Obama

Barack Obama Has Pardoned Fewer People Than George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton


As if we needed another reminder that President Obama is not a progressive on criminal justice issues, Pro Publica crunches the numbers and finds that he's worse on pardons and commutations than even his Republican predecessors:

Obama has parceled out forgiveness far more rarely than his recent predecessors, pardoning just 22 individuals while denying 1,019.

He has given pardons to roughly 1 of every 50 individuals whose applications were processed by the Justice Department. At this point in his presidency, Ronald Reagan had pardoned 1 of every 3 such applicants. George H.W. Bush had pardoned 1 in 16. Bill Clinton had pardoned 1 in 8. George W. Bush had pardoned 1 in 33.

Obama also has been stingy with commutations, applications for early release by those still serving federal prison sentences.

Under Reagan and Clinton, applicants for commutations had a 1 in 100 chance of success. Under George W. Bush, that fell to a little less than 1 in 1,000. Under Obama, an applicant's chance is slightly less than 1 in 5,000.

Happy Friday.

UPDATE: P.S. Ruckman, Jr., who has worked with Reason on pardon and commutation stories in the past, emails to say that he crunched these numbers over the summer, and put them in a handy chart:

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  1. Don’t worry. After the election there will be a two month fire sale on them. Michelle and the brats are not flying commercial and they are not moving back to some dump in Chicago. That house in Hawaii and those private planes won’t pay for themselves.

    1. Me thinks Marie Antoinette got a bad wrap.

  2. Don’t worry, once we get a black president he’ll understand the unfairness of the system and strive for justice.

    Oh, wait…

    1. I wonder sometimes if the fact he’s black makes him double down on some of these issues like crime, military, etc. He doesn’t want to appear any weaker or radically different than prior presidents. He’s afraid of any major deviation from the status quo.

      1. I think he just doesn’t care.

        1. ^^THIS

        2. Yep.

          He’s not actually black. By which I mean that he hasn’t had any of the experiences directly or familially that made the black experience different than the white experience.

          Ironically, when he was first running for president many black people questioned whether he was “black enough” but now they unquestioningly support him because of his skin color.

          1. I was about to say the same thing. He doesn’t know anyone in jail for drug offenses, why would he give a fuck about them? He’s a self-serving asshole, nothing more.

            I have a low enough opinion of him that I wouldn’t even be surprised if his choice in spouse wasn’t at least partially influenced by a realization that he needed to shore up his blackness if he was really going to capitalize on identity politics. If he had married a white lady he’d barely seem black at all.

            1. Since to the left the personal is political and he seems to have been political most of his life, that makes sense. I’ve heard many black women, even supporters, make this same argument.

            2. Makes sense to me. Also, she is tall and statuesque. I find her physically more formidable than him, in general.

        3. No no, he’s TUFF GAI KRIMEFIITER!!

  3. The office ? led by Pardon Attorney Ronald Rodgers, a former military judge and federal prosecutor ? rarely dispenses endorsements, however.

    A former federal prosecutor in charge of who gets recommended for a pardon?

    I’m surprised there were any at all.

    1. The pardon office is and always has been a fucking disgrace. They won’t even consider a pardon until the sentence is served. So you can get totally and unfairly fucked and they won’t even consider doing something about it until the fucking is complete.

      Every single person in DOJ needs to be fired. Just start over from scratch.

      1. “Throw the bums out” never works because of the kind of assholes who are attracted to the job.

        1. We could hang the old bums as a salutary lesson to the new bums.

  4. Its simple:

    Its all about Obama. Its going to be a rare pardon indeed that delivers any benefit to Obama. About, oh, call it, 1 in 5,000.

    1. Yeah, but if he loses the election as John said above, I bet you will see some firesales going on for Pardons.

      I don’t think for a second he would even debate selling out.

      1. Oh, I agree.

        Once he’s a lame duck, well, that pardon power is a wasting asset, and they will go into overdrive to identify the profitable ones.

      2. Yes. He will sell pardons in a fashion that makes Clinton look like a reserved guy. Count on it.

  5. Is he stingy with the pardons, or just too lazy to bother reviewing the applications? I know which way I would bet.

  6. It’s the Republicans’ fault. Obama wants to pardon lots of people, but he knows that Karl Rove and the Republican Noise Machine would make each person out to be Willie Horton, and Obama would lose the election and slavery would return.

    /progressive logic

    1. That is why he will pardon lots of people after he no longer can run for re-election. Riiiight!!

  7. His last december in office (whether 2012 or 2016) we’ll see boatloads of pardons, not least for his cabinet, czars and himself.

    1. not least for his cabinet, czars and himself.

      Serious question: can a president pardon himself?

      1. Technically, I believe he can. However, such questions are best asked to the parasites lawyers like ProL and RC.

      2. Nixon couldn’t. Had to wait for Ford to pardon him.

      3. Probably not. Otherwise impeachment would be a dead letter. He could just pre-emptively pardon himself like Ford did for Nixon.

      4. Parasitically speaking, there’s no explicit limit on his pardon powers that I know of, so he could pardon himself, I guess.

        Nixon didn’t have to, because it was part of his deal when he resigned that he’d get a pardon.

        Here’s a scenario:

        Obama is a lame duck. He resigns, shortly before his term expires in January. Biden becomes President, and pardons Obama, cribbing from Ford’s speech about moving on, etc., and blaming the whole unseemly thing on the Tea Party.

        1. In our eighth grade class I had to do pretty much the same thing in our experimental model government. Elected president, my popularity went into a steep dive after favoring my sycophants to ridiculous extremes.

  8. The one executive power he decides not to expand. As Jesus told Elder Price in The Book of Mormon: “You’re a dick!”

  9. Occam’s Razor you guys: Under Team Red administrations miscarriages of justice were so common and egregious that even coal-hearted Rethuglicans couldn’t ignore them. After Obama’s enlightened ascendency, the justice system is so perfect that the only people who go to prison are people who deserve to be there. Why pardon inveterate scum who are obviously eager to rape old ladies to death while smoking pot?

  10. I don’t get it. Do we want President’s to just start pardoning people for the hell of it? I’m a libertarian, and I don’t want violent criminals being pardoned for their crimes. Non-violent (victimless) criminals, yes, but then let’s make judgements based on the “crime” that was pardoned and not the total number of pardons.

    1. Until the total number of pardons meets the number of people in federal prison on drug charges, I think total number of pardons is a fine metric.

      1. The reason why it’s not a fine metric is because for all you know, everyone that was pardoned is a convicted and guilty murderer, while all of the drug “criminals” are still in prison.

    2. By definition there are FAR more people in prison than deserve to be. The right number of pardons, for a libertarian, would be in the thousands.

    3. Do you seriously think there have been fewer abuses of the justice system with regard to convictions between 2008 and 2012?

      1. See my comment above in response to Nicole. That’s the only point I was trying to make. I agree with califernian’s assessment. Total number of pardons is a necessary but not sufficient measure of justice. My exception was to the phrase “worse on pardons,” since the number of pardons doesn’t tell us anything to that regard.

  11. Somewhat OT, Glen Greenwald has a very interesting take on where the Big O stands in terms of historical presidential civil liberties transgressions.

    I know Greenwald isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but on civil liberties he’s no Obama fanboi.

  12. Obama has parceled out forgiveness far more rarely than his recent predecessors, pardoning just 22 individuals while denying 1,019.

    These 1,019 have failed to sufficiently donate to the Obama campaign. After all, forgiveness isn’t cheap. Just ask the Roman Catholic Church.

    1. So he’ll have the people he pardons go on a pilgrimage, like to Mount Vernon?

  13. My understanding is that it’s standard procedure for presidents to issue most of their pardons just as they’re leaving office, perhaps because that way there’s no chance of political backlash.

  14. I like Obama,haha, he is so charming

  15. I like Obama,haha, he is so charming

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