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Justice Dept. Investigating Severe Racial Disparity in Presidential Pardons

The Justice Department has launched an investigation into the presidential pardons process after a Washington Post/ Pro Publica investigation revealed last December that white convicted felons are four times more likely to receive pardons than blacks.

The newspaper investigation found that even when two people had committed similar offenses, the white person was still much more likely to get the pardon.

The investigation looked primarily at the Bush administration so that it could use an entire presidential term. But although the Obama administration wasn’t included in the study, the pattern has continued–of the 22 people pardoned by Obama, only two were non white.

According to the Justice Department, the purpose of its study is to “test the primary hypothesis that all other things being equal African Americans and other minorities are less likely to progress in the pardon adjudication process than applicants of other races.”

The department will consider pardon applications submitted between October 1, 2001 and April 30, 2012.

While Bush administration officials expressed surprise at the racial disparities found, the process used by the Office of Pardons reveals how the deck could be stacked against African Americans. The ProPublica investigation found that Bush officials were instructed to give more consideration to people who were married and were more financially stable. Also those who had support from their elected representative had a better chance. Given the marriage rates and relative financial instability in the black community, and also the fact that white convicts would be more likely to have established a relationship with the local Congressman—often by their families making campaign contributions—the result is clearly going to vastly favor white applicants for pardons.

To insulate himself from the appearance of the kind of impropriety that haunted President Bill Clinton when he pardoned billionaire Marc Rich—who fled the country after being indicted for evading more than $48 million in taxes, after Rich’s ex-wife had donated huge amounts to Clinton’s campaign—Bush purposely didn’t involve himself in the pardons process, always taking the recommendations of the pardons office.

After a pardon, a former convict’s record is wiped clean of the felony.


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