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Federal Pardon Power Rarely Used


The United States Constitution grants the President the sole power to pardon a person convicted of a federal crime. Historically, the pardon power has been used to correct injustice and right wrongs. However, under the Obama administration, the pardon power is rarely used.

President Obama has pardoned less than 25 people since he took office, which is the least amount since the modern era of pardons began in 1900. To put it in perspective, Obama pardons roughly 1 in 50 people who apply, whereas George W. Bush pardoned 1 in 33, 1 in 8 were pardoned by Bill Clinton, and 1 in 3 were pardoned by Ronald Reagan.

While there are some legitimate reasons for refusing to pardon, the majority of applicants are those who have a reasonable claim. One of the most glaring needs for a pardon exists when Congress changes sentencing laws. An example is from 2010 when Congress reduced the huge difference in sentences for crack versus powder cocaine. There are thousands of federal prisoners who are sitting under the previous laws for crack. Making the prior sentences conform to new sentences would be an excellent use of the pardon power.

The President is the only person who can pardon a person convicted of a federal crime. In keeping with the history of the power, the President should make wide-use of the pardon power to correct injustice.

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