Barack Obama has rarely used his power to pardon offenders and to commute sentences. Most likely, he sees little political upside to a public show of mercy to persons who have been defined as criminals. This issue matters to Friends of Justice in a personal way because we work with death row inmates like Curtis Flowers and Ramsey Muniz, a seventy year-old Latino leader serving a life sentence for a non-existent narcotics conspiracy.
Professor Mark Osler, a Friends of Justice board member who teaches law at the University of St. Thomas, is a leading authority on pardon and commutation issues. Like me, he wonders why Barack Obama has been so stingy with his pardon pen.
Osler has recently addressed this pressing issue in two articles, a brief Huffington Post piece and a journal-length essay, “A Biblical Value in the Constitution: Mercy, Clemency, Faith, and History” which can be downloaded here. The longer piece is the best introduction to the “Is America a Christian nation?” debate I have seen. Here’s his conclusion:
America may not be a “Christian nation,” in the way that some would like, but it remains a “nation of Christians,” where a substantial majority of citizens look to Christian principles and teaching to inform their morality. The effort to see the Constitution as an expressly religious document is doomed by the text of the thing itself. However, that does not mean that Christians such as myself cannot celebrate and promote those parts of the Constitution that reflect and embrace our central values. Of all the Constitution, the part that most clearly reflects the values of Christ is the pardon clause. It enables a person, the president, to grant mercy. Seen properly as not only a tool of the executive but a lever of God’s will, clemency should be embraced as a profound, important, and regularly used power of the man or woman in whom we invest so much trust.