Obama Commuting Sentences of Inmates — What the ?

According to The Hill, Obama commuted the sentences of 102 inmates on Thursday.  In total, Obama has commuted the sentences of 744 inmates, more than the last 11 presidents combined.  The bulk of Obama’s commutes came this year with the total reaching 590.

White House counsel Nigel Eggleston wrote in a blog post, “These statistics make clear that the president and his administration have succeeded in efforts to reinvigorate the clemency process.  Beyond the statistics, though, are stories of individuals who have overcome the longest of odds to earn this second chance.”

The Hill reported:

The latest round of commutations is part of the Obama administration’s effort to free prisoners serving lengthy sentences doled out during the government’s war on drugs. 
With just three months left in office, Obama is accelerating the use of his clemency power. Obama in August handed out commutations to 325 inmates — including 214 on Aug. 3, the largest single-day total since 1900. 
That alone nearly doubled the number of commutations granted during Obama’s presidency. 
Obama first launched a clemency initiative in 2014 to review sentences of non-violent drug offenders who would receive shorter prison terms under today’s guidelines. 
It’s part of the president’s broader push to reform the criminal justice system. 
Does the criminal justice system need some form of reformation?  Absolutely.  However, it does not fall under the job description of the president to do so.  Moreover, the Constitution only allows the federal government to make and enforce only a few criminal laws pertaining to the authority the Constitution invests in the Congress.  The bulk belongs to the States.  But, with the every usurpations of the federal government into authority belonging to the States, the power of the federal government grows.
This number quoted by The Hill does not include the thousands of illegal alien invaders, who have committed other crimes in addition to violation of immigration law, this administration has “released” into unassuming communities across the republic.
Does the Constitution provide for the president to “commute” sentences of violators?  It depends on how one reads the Constitution.  According to Article II, Section 2, paragraph 1 of the Constitution for the united States of America, “The President … shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the united States, except in cases of Impeachment.”  Many would point to this and say, “yes, he has that power.”  But, he only has that power when it comes to “offenses against the united States, except in cases of Impeachment.”
The Hill continued:
Facing pressure from reform advocates to pick up the pace of commutations, the administration has tweaked its strategy to accommodate more inmates. [emphasis mine]
He has shortened some inmates’ sentences without immediately releasing them, leaving them years left to serve. That has allowed Obama to grant commutations to prisoners who have committed more serious offenses. 
For example, 28 of the 35 inmates serving life in prison had their sentences reduced to between 15 and 30 years. Only seven will be released in the next two years. 
A larger number of inmates convicted of gun charges have received clemency from Obama, according to a USA Today review. 
Thirty inmates in the latest batch have firearm-related convictions. 
The commutations are increasingly seen as a last-ditch effort for Obama to reduce prison sentences he sees as unjust.  [emphasis mine]
While Hussein Soetoro may see some prison sentences as “unjust,” does this in and of itself justify the use of the presidential power of “reprieve and pardon” to alter the criminal justice system based on the opinion of one man?

The Framers were clear in their reasoning for giving the power of pardon and reprieve to the president.  In Federalist Paper No. 74, Alexander Hamilton, writing as Publius, wrote, “Humanity and good policy conspire to dictate, that the benign prerogative of pardoning should be as little as possible fettered or embarrassed.  The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel.  As the sense of responsibility is always strongest, in proportion as it is undivided, it may be inferred that a single man would be most ready to attend to the force of those motives which might plead for a mitigation of the rigor of the law, and least apt to yield to considerations which were calculated to shelter a fit object of its vengeance.  The reflection that the fate of a fellow-creature depended on his sole fiat, would naturally inspire scrupulousness and caution;  the dread of being accused of weakness or connivance, would beget equal circumspection, though of a different kind.  On the other hand, as men generally derive confidence from their numbers, they might often encourage each other in an act of obduracy, and might be less sensible to the apprehension of suspicion or censure for an injudicious or affected clemency.  On these accounts, one man appears to be a more eligible dispenser of the mercy of government, than a body of men.”   

Federalist Paper No. 69 addressed the power of pardon of the president versus the power of pardon of State governors.  While the president can pardon in all cases except impeachment, State governors can pardon in all cases including impeachment, except treason and murder.

As can be seen from the Federalist Papers,  the pardon and/or reprieve is limited to “exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt” and “motives which might plead for mitigation of the rigor of law.”  It doesn’t declare the commutation of sentences because the law changed  to a lesser sentence or if a president is of the opinion a sentence is “unjust.”  Opinions on the “unjust” nature of sentences can be varied from one person to the next.

The power to pardon vested in the President by our Constitution was not meant to be abused as Hussein Soetoro or any other individual occupying the office of president has done.  One can surmise the pardoning ability of the president would be used sparingly, for exceptional cases, and not a blanket move to change or alter the criminal justice system by means of fiat.  And, one can surmise the pardoning ability of the president would be used when certain circumstances would indeed warrant a reprieve from the “rigor of the law.”  One cannot surmise the framers would intend for this ability to be used as it is now or has been in the past.  But, the framers envisioned the occupants of governmental offices to be men of honor, integrity, good moral character, and of good judgement.  Unfortunately, the occupants of government offices today possess none of the qualities the framers envisioned, which is the fault of the American citizenry.

Groups have influenced Hussein Soetoro to “step up his game” in exercising pardons and reprieves because these groups want criminal justice system reform.  However, the reform sought comes from the legislative branch.  It does not come in “using” a power reserved for exceptions to circumvent both branches of the legislature, where the legislature is duly authorized to make law and enact punishments for violations of the law.   These are found in the enumerated powers of the Congress.  All other powers are reserved to the States that make laws to protect and secure right God demands that governments honor.

The ability to pardon, which is necessary and proper, to be vested in the president was never envisioned to be used as it is today.  It was meant for exceptions, which would be few and far between.  As with everything else, men, who are easily corruptible, abuse the power with which they are entrusted.  While no man is immune from the evils of temptation and corruption, the people would be wise to choose men of integrity, honor, good moral character and good judgement instead of men who pander for votes.  That is unlikely to happen as today’s elections are more of a “popularity” contest than a selection of honorable men to serve in government.  Moreover, it’s difficult to find honorable men who are in politics.  It’s rather obvious in this presidential election cycle.



About Suzanne Hamner

Former professional Registered Nurse turned writer; equal opportunity criticizer; politically incorrect conservative;
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