Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Pardon II

Well, President Obama on Friday finally pardoned some people, 682 days after his inauguration, thus managing by 17 days not to be the slowest President ever to pardon anyone (George W. Bush still holds that dubious title). P. S. Ruckman, Jr. has some of the details: there are nine pardons total; six of the nine are for extremely minor offenses (so minor that the people in question weren't even given jail time, and were just trying to clear their record) and aren't the sort of things that seriously required a huge amount of deliberation; the most recent crime was eleven years ago; and this compares with 1,288 denied clemency requests and a backlog of requests currently numbering over 4000. But I suppose it's something, and at least Obama didn't pass the 699-day mark, which would have been extraordinarily depressing. I suppose now we get to see if this slow pace keeps up, or if this is now the cracking of the ice and at least a steady trickle will come out of the White House for now; one hopes the latter.

What really gets me about the paucity of pardons in recent Presidential terms is that the number of requests that would be reasonable to grant must be massive in comparison with what they would have been a hundred or two hundred years ago, just from the size of the U.S. population and the inevitability of the sort of mistakes, misfortunes, and instances of excessive zeal that pardons are supposed to correct. We should expect that over time the number of pardons would (more or less, allowing for variations from term to term and President to President) have increased. And for a good portion of our history they did, in fact, do this: not all Presidents were equally generous with the pardon power, of course, but the trend is noticeable. But for the past forty years at least, things have looked increasingly dismal.

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