Let me start with a question (and judging by the title of this post, this should be easy [the author snickers and taps the tips of his fingers, Mr Burns style]).
What do Casper Weinberger, Elliott Abrams, Robert McFarlane, Clair George, Marc Rich, George Steinbrenner, Dan Rostenkowski and heroin dealer Aslam P. Adam have in common? The answer after the jump:
If you answered "All have received a presidential pardon", congratulate yourself, but only slightly.
What stands out about ALL of the above names is not only that they were pardoned for controversial crimes both large and small. What is most eyecatching about these particular pardons is the fact that they occurred in the last month of a presidency that was about to end.
Think about that for a moment. Long after the presidential campaigns of their respective years had determined a winner, with the clocks running out on their presidencies, in an atmosphere that ensured that the pardoner would be free of all political consequences, all of the people mentioned above got the presidential equivalent of a free pass.
By Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, the president has the power of pardons for offenses committed against U. S. Federal law, with the exception of impeachment. Many governors are given similar power for violations of state law. It has become a staple of presidencies past and present to rightfully use this power to right long-past errors in judgment or single-event crimes committed against outdated statutes, and in many cases throughout our country's history, the use of this power has been used positively.
What the Framers of the Constitution didn't see (along with many other things, such as space flight, television and 5-day deodorant pads) was how this power would come to be abused by our last three presidents as they packed their steamer trunks full of presidential papers, White House stationary and towels with the Presidential Seal into a moving van.
Which brings us to the recently-convicted Scooter Libby. It has basically become a foregone conclusion that Libby will be pardoned, but it is a solid bet that that pardon will come in the days after the 2008 Presidential Election. So George W. Bush, a man who has lived a life of unabashed recklessness coupled with a princely lack of consequences, will, with no other weapon at his disposal other than the gift of timing, extend one last arrogant middle finger at the plurality of America he has neglected to serve since having the Presidency bestowed upon him by Antonin Scalia.
With the well-documented abuses of the recent past, and what will surely be the egregious abuses of the near-future, what is needed is an amendment to the Constitutional power of the presidential pardon which states that no President shall have the power to grant a presidential pardon within 90 days of the expected end of his or her term in office. If we count backward 90 days from any given January 20th, we end up with a date at the end of October, roughly two weeks before the election (or re-election) of the President. It is hard to see how the pardoning of Scooter Libby in October of 2008 would help the Republican nominee in an election roughly 2 weeks afterward. If this law had been in effect in 2000, odds are very good that Marc Rich would never have received a pardon.
Like many other, I have watched over the last two decades as the Constitutional power of the presidential pardon has been turned into just another way to let the president's well-heeled friends get away with crimes against the United States as the president hightails it out of Washington. While an amendment such as the one I've proposed above would not remove the important power of the presidential pardon, I believe it would ensure that the power was used in a prudent fashion, as the Framers intended.