Sarat, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, appeared on an April 2022 episode of WNYC Studios’ radio show The Takeaway to comment upon the history and potential of the power of U.S. presidents to grant clemency to those convicted of crimes.
The episode, hosted by Melissa Harris-Perry and titled “I Beg Your Pardon,” aired the day after President Joe Biden issued three pardons and 75 commutations to people convicted of drug offenses or other nonviolent crimes, while 18,000 petitions for clemency were still pending. Sarat gave his opinion on Biden’s actions, and spoke more broadly about clemency as an often unpopular political move that requires a “stiff political backbone and some courage.”
Also discussed were the clemency review process, conceptions of clemency as mercy versus error correction versus political favor-trading, and comparisons between various presidents’ records regarding how and how often they exercised clemency. Sarat advocated for Biden to commute the sentences of those on death row. “If we want a more equitable use of the clemency power,” he said, “we need to elect presidents with a fine-tuned sense of justice and, more importantly, with a commitment to being merciful.”