The U.S. Constitution gives the President the power “to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment,” and at least several of the Founding Fathers thought that such a power was important to the usual and normal order of government. Laws tend naturally to severity because they cannot take into account circumstances. A government deriving its authority from the people, however, needs to have a built-in recognition that circumstances do sometimes matter, even if the law does not account for them. In the words of James Wilson, “Citizens, even condemned citizens, may be unfortunate in a higher degree, than that, in which they are criminal.” Taking this into account is one of the ways in which a government can make clear that law exists for the good of the people rather than the reverse.
President Obama has to date issued 22 pardons and one commutation of sentence. This is extraordinarily stingy. There was not a single pardon or commutation for the 2012 year, unless you count the Thanksgiving turkeys. The President has only issued pardons on three occasions. His clemency grant rates are extraordinarily low.
Read the rest of this post at the First Thoughts blog.