Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution grants the President the power of executive clemency. By definition it is the authority of pardon, commutation of a sentence, remission of fines or restitution and reprieve to an individual convicted of a federal crime. President Trump recently commuted the life sentence of Alice Marie Johnson after she had already served 22 years for a drug trafficking conviction. The plight of Ms. Johnson was brought to the attention of the President by Kim Kardashian. Kardashian was at the White House to discuss prison reform, an issue that is also being addressed by son-in-law Jared Kushner. Despite this act of mercy the media chose to criticize the President. The constant negative coverage of the President is irrational and undeserving. The media argues that the clemency was granted thanks to Kardashian’s involvement. They point to other unjustly convicted individuals who don’t have an influential spokesperson appealing to the President on their behalf. Everyone who has met Donald Trump knows that our President is a compassionate individual. Reforming our penal system is one of the President’s priorities because he understands the disparity within the system. Sentences are not consistent for similar crimes. One fact is certain, President Trump wants reform and is willing to review any case that a constituent feels is unjust. Clemency can only be granted in cases of a federal crime but it does restore the right to vote and hold political office. This president has been judicious in pardoning criminals thus far in his term. He has pardoned several high-profile criminals and is reviewing several more, notably Martha Stewart and Rod Blagojevich.
The clemency champion was Franklin D. Roosevelt who pardoned 2819 criminals during his abbreviated four terms in office. Barack Obama is the modern era champ granting clemency to 1927 criminals, 330 of those during his final week in office. To be fair Obama granted clemency to only 5% of the applications received while in office. In fiscal year 2016 alone Obama received over 12,000 clemency applications. If we look solely at percentages, President Truman is tops with clemency granted to 41% of applicants (total of 1913 pardons) and President Wilson granted clemency to 38% of applicants (total 1087 pardons). President Obama’s legacy with respect to pardons will be his desire to close Guantanamo Bay. A portion of the Naval Base was converted into prison facilities in 2002 to house suspected terrorists. Americans were comfortable with the knowledge that the prison was outside the continental U.S. By confining the detainees outside the U.S. prisoners could be interrogated as military combatants. Obama believed the facility served as a recruiting tool for terrorists and was determined to close Gitmo. There were 242 suspected terrorists housed at Gitmo when he entered office and only 41 when he left. Many (probably most) of the detainees released by Obama returned to terrorist activities. President Trump should be applauded for pardoning Ms. Johnson. Hopefully there will be more such pardons in the future. Justice will never be completely blind or fair but there is a Constitutional mechanism to make amends.