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November 2, 2012 (ProPublica)

Obama Granted Clemency Less Than Any Modern President

A former brothel manager who helped the FBI bust a national prostitution ring. A retired sheriff who inadvertently helped a money launderer buy land. A young woman who mailed ecstasy tablets for a drug-dealing boyfriend, then worked with investigators to bring him down.

All of them and hundreds more were denied pardons by President Obama, who has granted clemency at a lower rate than any modern president, according to a ProPublica review of pardons data.

The Constitution gives the president unique power to forgive individuals for federal offenses, allowing the restoration of a person's full rights to vote, possess firearms and obtain business licenses, as well as remove other barriers. For many, a pardon is an opportunity for a fresh start.

But Obama has parceled out forgiveness far more rarely than his recent predecessors, pardoning just 22 individuals while denying 1,019.

To determine who receives clemency, Obama, like his predecessors, relies on recommendations from the Office of the Pardon Attorney, the arm of the Justice Department that reviews applications. The office — led by Pardon Attorney Ronald Rodgers, a former military judge and federal prosecutor — rarely endorses pardons.

Paul Rosenzweig, a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, recently authored a study that recommends taking the clemency process out of the Justice Department's hands.

"Moving the office outside of the Department of Justice would restore the pardon function to its traditional status as an exercise of pure presidential authority," wrote Rosenzweig, who served as a policy adviser in the Department of Homeland Security during the Bush administration.

Issue Area(s): Sentencing Policy, Incarceration, Felony Disenfranchisement, Collateral Consequences