For all the talk on criminal justice reform, President Obama has rarely used pardons to correct bad convictions.
“President Obama has been more stingy with this power than any president in American history. It betrays a rampant political cowardice in his administration, and a callous disregard for human rights,” Ryan Cooper at The Week noted.
The lack of motivation to pardon drug users is most blatant. Sentencing rules passed in 2010, but not applied retroactively, have left almost 9,000 people in jail who had the misfortune of being arrested before the rules changed.
A similar pattern of inaction exists for Guantanamo Bay. Despite many promises and professed regrets from Obama about not closing the prison, nothing substantial has changed. To avoid Congressional obstruction, Obama could use pardons to empty the prison of inmates, half of whom were cleared for release in 2009.
In total, Obama has granted 64 pardons and 89 commutations. While his commutations have been higher than most presidents since Harry S. Truman, no president has granted fewer pardons since James A. Garfield, who only served for 9 months and 15 days before his assassination.
George H.W. Bush only has 10 more pardons than Obama, but Bush only served one term. Obama’s total also includes pardoning 13 convicts who were already released.
The Obama administration has pushed for some aspects of criminal-justice reform such as not pursuing mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug offenders. Yet the most sweeping power at the administration’s disposal goes unused.