'A Day Late and a Dollar Short': President Obama's Clemency Initiative 2014

16 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2018

Date Written: March 1, 2018


Over his last two years in office, President Barack Obama used his Article II Pardon Clause power to commute the sentences imposed on more than 1,700 drug offenders. In a 2017 law review article, he congratulated himself for reinvigorating the federal clemency process. His clemency initiative, however, was hardly the unqualified success that he claims. Obama waited far too long before undertaking his effort. He should have started it in 2010, rather than in 2014. That would have allowed the thousands of clemency decisions he made to be handled at a more reasonable pace and probably more accurately. He also should have issued a general conditional commutation order rather than undertake a case-by-case re-examination of the sentence each clemency applicant received. That would have allowed district court judges, who are far better than any president could be at making sentencing decisions, to resentence each offender. Finally, he should have reformed the clear structural defect in the federal clemency process. The Department of Justice controls the clemency application process even though, as the agency that prosecuted every clemency applicant, the department suffers from an actual or apparent conflict of interest. In sum, Obama could have done far more by doing far less or by doing something far different than by acting as the Resentencer-in-Chief.

Keywords: Pardon Clause, pardon power, pardon, clemency power, clemency

Suggested Citation

Larkin, Paul J., 'A Day Late and a Dollar Short': President Obama's Clemency Initiative 2014 (March 1, 2018). Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2018, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3132430

Paul J. Larkin (Contact Author)

The Heritage Foundation ( email )

214 Massachusetts Ave NE
Washington, DC 20002-4999
United States
202-608-6190 (Phone)

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