Monday, November 21, 2011

Our notably unpardoning President

Sandy Levinson

Justin Smith, a philoosphy professor from Montreal, has an excellent posting on the New York Times web site denouncing the "parody" of mercy by which President Obama will shortly "pardon" a turkey, who will therefore be allowed to live. Smith notes the fact that the United States is almost unique among the self-proclaimed "enlightened" countries of the world in its use of the death penalty. Rick Perry, of course, garnered huge applause from telling a Republican audience that he has let literally dozens of prisoners go to their deaths without his exercising his gubernatorial prerogative even to delay the sentence for 30 days. (Pardons and commutations are in the hands of a separate pardoning board in Texas.) This included his sending to death a very-likely innocent man who had been railroaded by junk-science testimony about arson, and Perry thereafter torpedoed a a post-execution attempt to find out the full facts. Moreover, Mitt Romney has publicly praised himself for never once using his own authority as Massachusetts governor to pardon anyone.

The sad fact is, however, that Barack Obama is little better. He has been notably non-compassionate in his use of presidential pardoning power. President Obama did not issue his first pardon until December 2, 2010, a full 682 days into his presidency. This puts him in third place (behind only George Washington and George W. Bush) in his hesitancy to pardon. There were, of course, exceedingly few federal laws to violate at the time of the Washington Administration, and he in fact had the grace and good sense to pardoned those convicted of treason in the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania. As the New York Times emphasized in its story on the Obama pardons, the recipients had committed only “small-scale” offenses many years ago that garnered most of them only sentences of probation. One might contrast our last two presidents with Harry Truman, who issued his first pardon eight days after succeeding to the presidency; Woodrow Wilson, who took nine days to issue his first pardon; and John F. Kennedy, who granted his first pardon nineteen days after his inauguration in 1961. Barack Obama should be ashamed. Perhaps he might emulate Washington's sensitivity vis-a-vis the participants in the Whiskey Rebellion by commuting (though not pardoning) John walker Lindh, who is serving a brutally long sentence that was agreed to to avoid the possibilty of a death penalty as part of the initial hysteria of 2001. I won't hold my breath. Perhaps he will demonstrate some compassion in January 2013 or 2017, depending on the results of the election, when it will be "safe" for him to do so. In any event, one might hope he would avoid the shameful parody of showing mercy toward a turkey, selected entirely arbitrarily, as most of us (including myself) look forward to devouring millions of other turkeys on Thanksgiving.


The turkeys are not selected arbitrarily. Eric Holder reviews all of their cases carefully, and then selects the one represented by Jack Quinn.

I think that, if our current Prez were to not engage in this rather grotesque game, he would be roundly criticized as a weakling, a 'greenie,' or a spoil-sport. I really don't think he has much choice about pardoning the turkey.

For similar reasons, I think he has to be chary about pardoning humans.

I do not like any of this. BUt we have the most besieged President since... I don't know when.

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With mls' expertise on presidential pardons of turkeys as Thanksgiving Day approaches:

"The turkeys are not selected arbitrarily."

he might expound on the selections of George W. Bush who obviously avoided looking in the mirror to pardon a real turkey.

I don't object to jest (how could I?), but bringing in the name of Jack Quinn seems a tad defamatory. Jack might not mind, but his clients might. May we anticipate a Point of Order?

Shag- my remarks were entirely in jest. I wouldn't want any of Quinn's clients to cry fowl.

I think CTS is correct & the turkey bit is a bit too easy of a shot. The recently announced pardons fit the general sentiment.

Not sure what the 21st Century version of the Whiskey Rebellion is but JWL (though the sentence was unjust) doesn't seem to be it. The WR involved a mass protest movement ala pardoning a mass of war resisters, and even there the short term nature of the WR did not apply.

The overall concern is valid and some have noted the bureaucratic system now in place limits things further. As with vacancies in the courts, Obama should do more, but then again, he has a lot more to deal with as well.

Perhaps, to amend, there was a short term period after 9/11 of particular civil unease that resulted in excessive treatment than is somewhat comparable to the WR, but since the overall threat continues, as compared to a specific protest that died out (mercy in the pardoning power an incentive there), the two are noticeably different.

The passage of time does warrant pardons in various cases and this might be one. See also, maybe, Eugene Debs eventually being released after the excitement that led to his imprisonment passed.

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