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Clemency
May 24, 2018

President Trump announced on Thursday that he would posthumously pardon Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion.

Johnson was arrested in 1912 for driving his white girlfriend over state lines. Prosecutors said it violated the Mann Act, which prohibited crossing state borders with a woman for "immoral purposes." Johnson was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to a year in prison. He then fled the country for several years before eventually coming back to serve his time. The case is now often seen as emblematic of racism entrenched in the U.S. justice system.

Johnson died in 1946. His pardoning marks the third-ever posthumous pardon in U.S. history, reports USA Today. The Obama administration opted not to pardon Johnson in part because of allegations of domestic violence against women, The New York Times reports.

Other boxing champions were invited to the pardoning ceremony, the Times reports. Sylvester Stallone was also at the White House on Thursday — his conversation with Trump in April is reportedly what inspired the president to revisit Johnson's case. Summer Meza

August 25, 2017

In Phoenix Tuesday, President Trump all but promised clemency to Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who was convicted in July of criminal contempt for defying an order to stop imprisoning suspected illegal immigrants. "I'll make a prediction," Trump said during his rally. "I think [Arpaio]'s going to be just fine, okay?"

On Friday night, the president followed through on that promise with an official pardon. "After more than 50 years of admirable service to our nation," the White House said in a statement Friday, "he is [a] worthy candidate for a presidential pardon." The 85-year-old former sheriff has long been an outspoken critic of undocumented immigrants and appeared with Trump on the campaign trail in 2016. Lauren Hansen

August 31, 2016

On Tuesday, President Obama commuted the sentences of 111 federal inmates, most of them jailed on nonviolent drug convictions, and set a new record for most presidential commutations issued in a month. Obama began August commuting the sentences of 214 inmates, bringing his total above the combined commutations of the previous nine presidents, and now, at 673, he can add Eisenhower to that list. The last 11 administrations issued a combined 690 commutations, so Obama can lap Truman, too, with 17 more.

Obama's efforts to free prisoners sentenced under harsher laws than are currently on the books is making only a small dent in the U.S. prison population — there are about 195,000 inmates in federal prison, down from 210,000 in 2014, plus 1.3 million in state facilities, and more than half of federal inmates were convicted of drug offenses. Along with his 673 commutations, the White House says, Obama "has also granted 70 pardons and is committed to continuing to grant additional commutations and pardons throughout the remainder of his presidency." You can read a list of the 111 inmates and what they were convicted of at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

April 1, 2015

On Tuesday, President Obama granted commutations to 22 people serving time in federal prison for drug-related crimes, mostly involving the sale of cocaine.

"Had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society," White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement. "Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years — in some cases more than a decade — longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime."

Tuesday's acts of clemency roughly double the number of sentences Obama has commuted while in office, to 43 total. George W. Bush commuted 11 sentences over his two terms, Eggleston notes; he doesn't mention that Bush pardoned 189 people, versus Obama's 64 pardons so far. Peter Weber

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