President Obama has granted clemency to more federal convicts than his three predecessors combined and more than any single president since Lyndon Johnson.
As he approaches the end of his final term in office, Obama has granted clemency to 1,093 people convicted of federal crimes, including 1,023 commutations and 70 pardons. That is more than Presidents George W. Bush (200), Bill Clinton (459), and George H.W. Bush (77) combined.
As the Pew Research Center reports in its recent analysis of Justice Department data, Obama has granted clemency more times than any president since Johnson who granted 1,187 convicts clemency, including (960 pardons, 226 commutations and one remission).
The grant of clemency is a presidential power allowing for leniency toward people convicted of federal crimes. It largely refers to commutation, which reduces a convict’s sentence, or pardon, which essentially forgives the crime and allows for restoration of civil rights. Another form of clemency is remission, or the reduction of a fine.
As Pew reports, Obama’s high clemency numbers have accompanied a record 34,930 clemency requests — more than the past eight presidents combined. The high request totals are largely a result of the Justice Department’s 2014 effort to encourage federal inmates to apply for presidential commutations. Most of Obama’s commutations have been for drug-related offenses.
“Looking at the same data another way, Obama has granted clemency to only 3% of those who have requested it. That’s not especially unusual among recent presidents, who have tended to use their clemency power sparingly,” Pew explains, noting that the percentage is on the low end of the presidential commutation spectrum.
Interestingly, Obama’s commutation totals dwarf the number of pardons he has granted, while his predecessors largely offered more pardons than commutations.
“He is on track to commute more sentences than any president since Wilson, who commuted 1,366,” Pew reports. “But he has granted fewer pardons to date than any president for whom DOJ has published statistics. The only one who comes close is George H.W. Bush, who issued 74 pardons – but served only four years in office, compared with Obama’s nearly eight.”
The Justice Department’s public records only go back as far as William McKinley’s truncated second term, which was cut short by his assassination in 1901. From 1900-1901 McKinley granted 448 federal convicts clemency, including 291 pardons, 123 commutations, eight respites (or delays in the execution of a capital punishment), and 12 remissions.