The President has granted pardons less frequently at this point in his presidency than any other commander-in-chief, dating back at least to 1900, according to Department of Justice statistics.
At a mere 22 pardons, Barack Obama has granted less pardons than all but one of his post-1900 predecessors, and less frequently than all of them. The one exception is George W. Bush, who had granted only 19 pardons at this point in his presidency. Still, Bush pardoned 1 in 16 applicants, while Obama has pardoned a mere 1 in 50.
Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were far more liberal in their use of clemency, granting 53, 79 and 277 pardons at this point in their first term, respectively.
Out of the 6,120 pleas for commutation of sentences — typically requests by the terminally ill — Obama has granted only one commutation.
The power of clemency is granted by the U.S. Constitution, which allows presidents the unique power to forgive individuals for federal offenses. While this won’t drop convictions, it restores suffrage, the right to bear arms, the ability to obtain business licenses, and removes barriers that would otherwise hinder post-prison job opportunities.
Among the casualties of the court system that Obama has denied pardons to are a retired sheriff who inadvertently helped a money launderer by land, and a former brothel manager who helped the FBI bust a national prostitution ring, reports ProPublica, who engaged in the original analysis.
The idea that Barack Obama, who ran under a progressive platform in 2008 and by occupation is a constitutional law professor and attorney, would be so hesitant to deny pardons to those who fall through the justice system’s cracks, is shocking to many observers, including Jeffrey Crouch, a political science professor at American University and the author of “The Presidential Pardon Power.”
“This idea of ‘tough on crime’ took root around the time of Ronald Reagan and it is striking that President Obama is showing so much less mercy than Reagan,” says Crouch.
In response, an Obama spokesman released a statement vying that President Obama takes his power to grant clemency “very seriously” and that “each recommendation received from the Department of Justice is carefully reviewed and evaluated on the merits.”
Note: This piece incorrectly stated that Barack Obama had issued fewer pardons than any other modern-day president in the title and the first sentence, rather than less frequently. This has now been corrected.