Obama's Clemency Record Is Still One of the Worst Ever

Despite belated pardons and a few more commutations, the president's mercy is rarely seen.


White House

President Obama's remarkably stingy clemency record improved slightly last December, when he shortened eight sentences, enough to push his commutation total above those of several predecessors, including both Bushes and Ronald Reagan. But as USA Today notes, Obama's total for pardons—which clear people's records, typically after they have completed their sentences—is still worse than any modern president's. In fact, to find a president who issued fewer pardons than the 64 Obama has granted so far, you have to go all the way back to James Garfield, who was shot four months after taking office in 1881 and died 11 weeks later from a combination of his wound and unsanitary doctoring. Among two-term presidents, Obama has issued fewer pardons than anyone but George Washington, who surely did not receive nearly as many applications.

Those comparisons are courtesy of Rock Valley College political scientist P.S. Ruckman Jr., who keeps track of clemency actions on his invaluable blog Pardon Power. Ruckman notes another troubling aspect of Obama's pardons, aside from their rarity: They tend to come long after they can do much good. "The people who are being pardoned are people on Social Security," he told USA Today. "The people who need pardons are young and need to establish themselves and get a job, get a Pell grant, and go to college." But as the paper points out, the recipients of Obama's pardons generally do not meet that description:

On average, 23 years have elapsed between the sentencing date and the day Obama has granted a pardon or commutation—an all-time high. A century ago, three or four years was the norm.

In Obama's last round of pardons, the 12 recipients had been sentenced between 1964 and 1997. Of those who served time behind bars (about half, with sentences ranging from 75 days to six years), the recipient released most recently was freed two decades before his pardon. USA Today focuses on Roy Auvil, "a 76-year-old retired truck driver from Illinois" who "didn't realize he was a felon until he went to renew his state firearms permit two years ago." Auvil was arrested for bootlegging and got five months' probation—50 years ago.

Obama still has two years to improve his clemency record, and the Justice Department has signaled a new openness to petitions, actively seeking commutation applications from prisoners who meet certain criteria. Last year a "senior administration official" told Yahoo News the administration's new clemency guidelines could result in "hundreds, perhaps thousands," of commutations. But the clock is ticking, and three of the commutations that the Justice Department's Office of the Pardon Attorney says Obama granted in recent months seem to be imaginary. According to the office's count, Obama has issued a total of 21 commutations, including 11 in the last three months of 2014. But according to the White House, the total is 18, including eight during the current fiscal year. I contacted the Justice Department to see if Obama secretly issued three commutations that the White House decided not to publicize but have not heard back yet. Sadly, this apparent error raises Obama's commutation total by 17 percent.

Update: The discrepancy between the Justice Department's tally and the commutations announced by the White House seems to be explained by the three Cuban spies who were released in December as part of the prisoner swap that accompanied Obama's renewal of diplomatic relations with Cuba. At the time Politico reported that "White House officials declined to answer questions…about the release of [Gerardo] Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero or whether Obama granted them formal commutations." Apparently it's official now, although you would not guess that from what the White House has said.

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  1. Look, just because he got away with breaking the law so many times we can’t count- and that’s before he was elected!- doesn’t mean he cares that other people are punished for the same things he enjoyed.

    1. *rimshot*

  2. But said Obama would free every violent black prisoner in Amurika!

    1. No, the criticism is that he hasn’t given nearly *enough* pardons – despite the signals his DoJ is sending that pardons are on the way.

      1. Seriously, are you content with the results of federal criminal justice?

        1. i’m not content with the results of anything really… not long term.

        2. That’s easy. Here’s shriek’s decision process:

          if (Obama.isInCharge())
          return “OK”;

          1. It’s the irony, dude.

            Obama is a Muslim Black Panther Communist America-Hating Colonial to the right-wing idiocracy.

            And to libertarians he is Bush the Third!

            1. Awesome point. By all means post it on or wherever it might be relevant.

            2. Palin’s Buttplug|2.4.15 @ 5:57PM|#
              “It’s the irony, dude.”

              No, turd. It’s your stupidity.

      2. Now that Obama has a Congress in opposition, he turns liberal? 😀

  3. Oskar Schindler: Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t.

    Amon Goeth: You think that’s power?

    Oskar Schindler: That’s what the Emperor said. A man steals something, he’s brought in before the Emperor, he throws himself down on the ground. He begs for his life, he knows he’s going to die. And the Emperor… pardons him. This worthless man, he lets him go.

    Amon Goeth: I think you are drunk.

    Oskar Schindler: That’s power, Amon. That is power.

    1. I like that.

      1. I saw that scene.

        But of course clemency ought to be based on justice, specifically providing that justice which the courts and the Congress neglected to provide.

        Sometimes when a particular type of sentence is unjust, the executive has a habit of repeatedly granting pardons until the legislature gets off its ass and reforms the law. I believe that the gradations of criminal homicide partly arose because the King kept spending time commuting excessive sentences under the earlier law.

  4. The word “Clemency” in tne title is completely redundent.

  5. I contacted the Justice Department to see if Obama secretly issued three commutations that the White House decided not to publicize but have not heard back yet.

    Commutations in pectore?

  6. The anointed savior doesn’t have time to contemplate the fate of mere mortals.

  7. In one of the prior threads about this, another poster aptly pointed out (I’m paraphrasing) that issuing commutations and/or pardons would be an admission that the government actually might have gotten something wrong.

    1. The FEDERAL govt never gets things wrong. Red state govts OTOH….

  8. Don’t fret. I have a feeling that even though he’s been piss-poor on clemency, he’ll set records for the number of pardons he issues in his last week.

    1. Only if a bunch of his sycophants end up in the slammer.

      1. A conviction isn’t necessary for a pardon. I’m pretty sure it can be issued any time after the offense is committed.

        Can we get a ruling here?

        1. The Pres can pardon federal crimes at any time. It’s the state governors who tend to be limited to pardoning post-conviction.

        2. Ford pardoned Nixon, even though he hadn’t been tried, let alone convicted. (I don’t think he’d even been formally charged with anything, although I’m not absolutely certain.)

          So presidents can definitely pardon people without a conviction.

          They can also issue blanket pardons which cover everyone charged with a specified crime, as Carter did with draft-dodgers.

  9. Who cares? The so-called best example of republic-derived democracy on the earth has some really shitty laws that puts far too many people in the prisons. Our old people continue to vote in the worst fucking humans ever. Between them and the college dummies America is turning into a mindless head butt.

    1. Time will catch up with those old farts, don’t you worry. Trouble is, they keep getting replaced.

  10. Hmm, I can’t instantly think of how this is the fault of Bush or the GOP controlled Congress. Give me time, I’ll think of something.

  11. My last pay check was $ 9500 working 10 hours a week online. My Friend’s has been averaging 14k for months now and she works about 21 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out
    ????? http://www.Workvalt.Com

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