President Bush pleased two people – himself and Scooter Libby — by commuting Libby’s prison sentence, writes Robert Novak in his Chicago Sun-Times column. Bush’s decision “pleased but did not fully satisfy restive conservatives, while enraging his liberal critics. Libby himself can breathe a sigh of relief that he does not have to serve prison time, but hardly anybody else is all that happy.”

Count Patrick Frey, a Republican and a prosecutor in Los Angeles Country, among the unhappy conservatives. “The jury said Scooter Libby did the crime. He should do the time,” Frey writes at his blog, Patterico’s Pontifications. Frey thinks there will be political consequences from Bush’s actions: “Yes, we were already going to get beaten in 2008 because of Iraq. But now, we’re going to get slaughtered. This particular convicted felon wasn’t worth it.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial page isn’t satisfied, either: “By failing to issue a full pardon, Mr. Bush is evading responsibility for the role his Administration played in letting the Plame affair build into fiasco and, ultimately, this personal tragedy.” The Journal editorial adds, “Mr. Libby deserved better from the President whose policies he tried to defend when others were running for cover. The consequences for the reputation of his Administration will also be long-lasting.”

But wait — at least one liberal is happy. “What Bush did was just and fair. It was the right thing to do,” suggests Timothy Noah, Slate’s “Chatterbox” columnist. Noah writes:

It would have been wrong for Bush to pardon Libby, as many Republicans urged him to do. Libby committed a crime, and it wouldn’t have been right for Bush to do anything to minimize the attendant disgrace or to lighten Libby’s $250,000 burden. “The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged,” Bush said. And so it should be. Bush did not intervene to spare Libby further disgrace, as Ford did with the Nixon pardon, and he didn’t preempt a prosecution that might reveal embarrassing facts about himself, as Bush’s father did. He waited until it was all over, and he acted humanely. Yes, it was inconsistent with his past indifference in such matters, particularly when he was governor of Texas. One can only hope that, having behaved decently once, he’ll acquire the habit. In the meantime, bully for him.

As George Washington law professor Orin Kerr writes at The Volokh Conspiracy, “President Bush has set a remarkable record in the last 6+ years for essentially never exercising his powers to commute sentences or pardon those in jail. His handful of pardons have been almost all symbolic gestures involving cases decades old, sometimes for people who are long dead.” Ohio State law professor Douglas Berman wonders whether Bush’s empathy for Libby’s plight could, just maybe, lead Bush to reconsider his support for long prison terms for all people not named Scooter Libby who have been convicted of federal crimes. On his Sentencing Law and Policy blog, Berman writes of President Bush:

I now hope that he will instruct all members of the Department of Justice to demonstrate similar compassion for other defendants sentenced under the federal sentencing guidelines. After all, it seems the President views a significant fines and probation and harm to reputation and family as “harsh punishment.” I am sure a number of defendants now appealing punishments that include also a prison term will be glad to have the top executive now defining what sorts of alternatives to imprisonment are sufficient in his view.