Whites More Likely to Get Presidential Pardons

Illustration for article titled Whites More Likely to Get Presidential Pardons

According to a new ProPublica study, whites are four times more likely than minorities to receive a presidential pardon.


The study, which focuses on the two terms of former President George W. Bush, found that out of the 189 presidential-pardon cases that succeeded, only 13 of those pardons were given to minorities — seven went to blacks, four to Hispanics, one to an Asian and one to a Native American. In multiple cases, white and black pardon applicants who committed similar offenses and had comparable post-conviction records experienced opposite outcomes.

"I'm just astounded by those numbers," Roger Adams, who served as head of the Justice Department's pardons office from 1998 to 2008, told the Washington Post. He said he could think of nothing in the office's practices that would have skewed the recommendations. "I can recall several African Americans getting pardons."

The examination also found that pardon applicants greatly benefit from having friends in positions of power. Letters from members of Congress or notable figures can triple the chances of an applicant's receiving a pardon.

Justice Department officials released a statement saying that many factors in the presidential-pardon application process can't be statistically measured. "Nonetheless, we take the concerns seriously," the statement said. "We will continue to evaluate the statistical analysis and, of course, are always working to improve the clemency process and ensure that every applicant gets a fair, merit-based evaluation."

From the Washington Post:

An African American woman from Little Rock, fined $3,000 for underreporting her income in 1989, was denied a pardon; a white woman from the same city who faked multiple tax returns to collect more than $25,000 in refunds got one. A black, first-time drug offender — a Vietnam veteran who got probation in South Carolina for possessing 1.1 grams of crack — was turned down. A white, fourth-time drug offender who did prison time for selling 1,050 grams of methamphetamine was pardoned.


All of the drug offenders forgiven during the Bush administration at the pardon attorney’s recommendation — 34 of them — were white.

President Obama has pardoned 22 people, all but two of them white. Like Bush, Obama depends on a team of career lawyers to advise him on these decisions.


Matt Leirich, a White House spokesman, said that race has no place in the evaluation of clemency applicants. "President Obama takes his constitutional power to grant clemency very seriously," said Lehrich. "Race has no place in the evaluation of clemency evaluations, and the White House does not consider or even receive information on the race of applicants."

Read more at the Washington Post.