President Obama should pardon people, not Thanksgiving turkeys, contends law Prof. Mark Osler of the University of St. Thomas in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Osler quotes the report of Dafna Linzer in ProPublica that Obama has granted clemency more rarely than has any modern president. Under Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, applicants for commutations had a 1 in 100 chance of success. Under George W. Bush, that fell to a little less than 1 in 1,000. Under Obama, an applicant’s chance is less than 1 in 5,000.
Our federal system of criminal law has, of late, been “too sanguinary and cruel,”, Osler says, citing Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers. Thousands of federal prisoners still languish under long sentences doled out under the now-amended 100-to-1 ratio between powder and crack cocaine that was built into the federal statutes and sentencing guidelines. That ratio has been actively rejected by all three branches of government, but the only avenue to relief for those prisoners is commutation. President Obama should look to the approach President Ford employed for draft evaders in 1974, says Osler: A mass commutation pursuant to a process created to provide careful review of each case.