White criminals seeking presidential pardons are nearly four times as likely to succeed as people of color, a ProPublica examination has found.
A state judge has blocked the release of 21 people, including five convicted of murder, who were pardoned by the outgoing governor. One issue is whether they had given sufficient public notice of their intent to seek release, allowing time for victims to comment.
Late last year, ProPublica and the Washington Post published a series of stories that exposed racial disparities in the awarding of presidential pardons. This past Sunday, the Washington Post's editorial page urged President Obama to reform the pardons process.
Mitt Romney has boasted about granting no pardons as Massachusetts governor from 2003-07, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry has pardoned 178 people in his nearly 11 years in office.
In 1974, President Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon before he could be prosecuted in the Watergate scandal shocked the country. It also tested a friendship of some 25 years when Jerald terHorst, Ford’s press secretary and biographer, resigned in protest.
ProPublica found that whites are almost four times as likely as minorities to be pardoned. To break the pattern of bias, experts say, would require reconsidering the subjective factors used to judge applicants.
Records obtained by ProPublica show that members of Congress weighed in on a wide variety of pardon applications, but having powerful friends was by no means a guarantee of success.
Brushing aside objections from a senior Department of Justice official, the DOJ's pardon attorney sent a pardon application from Frank Vennes Jr. forward with a favorable recommendation only to find out that Vennes was under federal investigation.
Letters from members of Congress triple a criminal's chances of receiving a presidential pardon. Roger Adams, longtime pardon attorney at the Justice Department, acknowledges that lawmakers' support adds "weight" to applicants' prospects.
Several steps could solve the racial disparity in presidential pardons that our joint project with The Washington Post has exposed -- starting with a requirement that any member of Congress who writes on behalf of a pardon applicant disclose campaign donations.
To avoid repeating a scandal like his predecessor’s, George W. Bush gave career lawyers in the Justice Department far-reaching authority to choose who got presidential pardons. The result: Whites are nearly four times as likely as minorities to win a pardon, even when the type of crime and severity of sentence are taken into account.
Few pardons have had a more lasting effect than President Clinton's 11th-hour decision to forgive Marc Rich.
A president's pardon doesn't wipe someone's criminal record clean, but it is an official act of forgiveness that can open career doors for offenders like Serena Nunn, whose long-ago felony conviction stands in the way of admission to the Georgia State Bar.