When it comes to the pardon power, President Obama is still more talk than action. According to the most recent Justice Department data, he has granted only one pardon for every 29 petitions that have come before him, fewer than any of the past seven presidents. Last week, he signed 22 commutations, but his record on those is even more dismal because he has such a staggering backlog, the biggest of any president in U.S. history. It is a backlog that he and his administration invited.
But you wouldn’t know that from his rhetoric. In a recent interview with Buzzfeed, the president said, “We’ve revamped the pardoning office in the Justice Department because, traditionally, we weren’t reaching a lot of nonviolent offenders who, if they received a pardon, perhaps would be in a better position to get employed.” Then at a March 6 town hall meeting in South Carolina, he said that he was taking a “new approach” to pardons after noticing that he “wasn’t really getting a lot of recommendations” from the Justice Department. In his most recent remarks, during a March 20 interview with the Huffington Post, he said that with the revamp, “we’re now getting much more representative applicants.” What he didn’t say is that he has let those applications pile higher and higher.