It’s like dark comedy, only it’s real life. Here are some statistics for Presidential Pardons relative to number of applications for clemency:
Ronald Reagan: 1 in 8
George H.W. Bush: 1 in 19
Bill Clinton: 1 in 16
George W. Bush: 1 in 55
Barack Obama: 1 in 290
Political liability is not an excuse. This is unprecedented restraint. It seems like a good time to recall the words of Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 74:
The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel. As the sense of responsibility is always strongest, in proportion as it is undivided, it may be inferred that a single man would be most ready to attend to the force of those motives which might plead for a mitigation of the rigor of the law, and least apt to yield to considerations which were calculated to shelter a fit object of its vengeance. The reflection that the fate of a fellow-creature depended on his sole fiat, would naturally inspire scrupulousness and caution; the dread of being accused of weakness or connivance, would beget equal circumspection, though of a different kind. On the other hand, as men generally derive confidence from their numbers, they might often encourage each other in an act of obduracy, and might be less sensible to the apprehension of suspicion or censure for an injudicious or affected clemency. On these accounts, one man appears to be a more eligible dispenser of the mercy of government, than a body of men.
Some of these are not hard cases. In the case of Weldon Angelos, a first-time offender sentenced to 55 years in prison, a Republican-appointed Judge who wrote Angelos’ sentencing order actually requested that the President pardon Angelos, because the 55-year sentence mandated by law was manifestly unjust:
[This] court believes that to sentence Mr. Angelos to prison for the rest of his life is unjust, cruel, and even irrational … To correct what appears to be an unjust sentence, the court also calls on the President—in whom our Constitution reposes the power to correct unduly harsh sentences—to commute Mr. Angelos’ sentence to something that is more in accord with just and rational punishment.
Why has the Obama administration not acted on this case? Why are turkeys representing a greater proportion of Obama’s presidential pardons than any of his republican or democratic colleagues in the past 4 decades? This is shameful. And it needs to change.