Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pardons by President: Clemency eclipsed in 21st century

On Monday, Grits lamented that "There's a firm bipartisan consensus that the constitutional clemency power has become an anachronism barely worth considering." Via Prof. P.S. Ruckman at Pardon Power, here's hard evidence of that trend at the federal level:

To summarize: Though presidents like Taft and Wilson granted clemency to 30% or more of those who applied, federal pardons waned in frequency after Truman, though they were still often granted. After Carter, though, the rate at which pardons were granted plummeted, and in the 21st century so far, the chances of clemency have become virtually nil.

Bottom line: 21st century American presidents (and most governors), abetted by sensationalist media, have all but killed clemency. It's past time for its renewal.

See prior, related Grits posts:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the types of cases that clemency is applied for have changed over the course of that time. For example, possession of a small amount of marijuana used to get you prison time, now you're likely to get misdemeanor probation. I would expect clemency to be more common when the system has less leniency built in, whereas in modern times the government may find fewer cases where the punishment seems out of step with the crime as in in the past. I think before I would criticize the President on this issue, I'd be interested in knowing whether he is denying clemency to inarguably worthy subjects, since it could just as easily be argued that the President's in the past were clearly abusing their clemency power to release offenders who did not deserve it, if all you are going to do is compare the statistics.

Or perhaps it is just the fact that the evolving standards that the anti-death penalty lobby so loves to talk about have naturally changed. Or does that sauce only taste good on the goose?