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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and present to rightfully use this power to right long-past errors in judgment or single-event crimes committed against outdated statutes, and in many cases throughout our country's history, the use of this power has been used positively.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.      

Originally posted to jpspencer on Wed Mar 07, 2007 at 07:52 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip/Rip Jar (7+ / 0-)

    As always, be blunt, but fair

    "The game's easy, Harry" - Richie Ashburn

    by jpspencer on Wed Mar 07, 2007 at 07:50:40 PM PST

  •  I have long thought that it should be illegal (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rebecca

    to pardon anyone who worked for the pardoner's administration, and for four years after the pardoner has left office. That way the Iran-Contraistas would have served at least 4 years: a sobering lesson to those who commit felonies.

    Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. Isaac Asimov

    by sailmaker on Wed Mar 07, 2007 at 07:59:25 PM PST

    •  Maybe... (0+ / 0-)

      make crimes done by members of the executive branch or in the name of the executive branch unpardonable?

      •  That's an Idea. (0+ / 0-)

        With my Devil's Advocate hat on, Suppose we had a Tom "the Hammer" Delay in Congress again, with an evil agenda, making laws that are unConstitutional, and getting the Justice Dept to convict people of those crimes. It takes 3 - ???  years to unwind that sort of shit, as we are seeing in the Padilla case.  A Presidential Pardon could be useful.

        make crimes done by members of the executive branch or in the name of the executive branch unpardonable?

        would be great for the Constitutional lawyer contingent: there would be no end of arguements about Executive Priviledge, the Unitary Executive Authority, and everything else, down to the definition of the word 'is'.

        Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. Isaac Asimov

        by sailmaker on Wed Mar 07, 2007 at 08:15:07 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Executive branch carte blanche (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mcfly

    I think the problem with the presidential pardon is that it is the ultimate "Get Out of Jail Free" card for anyone doing business in the name of the president. The presidents are using it to circumvent the legal consequences for their political friends and operatives.

    Presidential pardon seems to be working far to well for the presidents and may be beyond repair. I'm not in favor of the removal of the power of the pardon, but how can it be made so it isn't a political tool? It is a political tool by nature, I think.

  •  The problem is (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LeftHandedMan, Magnifico, donkeywonk

    the pardon power is not being used the way it was intended to be used, as the ultimate corrective to a criminal justice system that occasional convicts the innocent, or someone who is guilty but nonetheless should not be in jail.  Bush in particular has a record of pardoning very few people.  Whether that will change in late 2008 is hard to say, I am guessing he will keep up his record of being compassionate to no one.  You are right that the people who do get pardons increasingly seem to be the rich and well connected.

    Probably the worst one was the pardon of Caspar Weinberger and the others, because that ended an investigation that involved Poppy and possibly could have even implicated him.  The Clinton pardons were sleazy, but I don't think they were bad enough to require constitutional change.  I just can't think of a way to change the pardon power effectively without denying the power to those who might need it.  That said, it is unfortunate that the most powerful among us never seem to be held accountable.

    As far as your 90 days idea, I believe a similar idea was proposed by Rep. Barney Frank after the Clinton pardons.  The problem is a situation like we have now, where Bush and Cheney are not running again.  They couldn't really be any more unpopular than they currently are, as such I think that Bush could pardon Scooter NOW without suffering more politically than he already has.

    •  Well... (0+ / 0-)

      the flurry of end of term pardons by definition always come when a President isn't up for re-election. I think the idea though is that if the pardons must be done before the election then as the preeminent representative of his party any unreasonable pardons could have a negative impact on his party.

      Who knows if it would work like that, but it sounds like an ok idea to me.

      We hope your rules and wisdom choke you / Now we are one in everlasting peace -6.63, -6.97

      by amRadioHed on Wed Mar 07, 2007 at 11:34:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is a nice idea, noble (0+ / 0-)

    but both parties benefit from the status-quo too much to allow this to happen, and the public is apathetic enough to allow them to get away with it without much rancor.

    Partisan pardons of people like Scooter Libby and Marc Rich are terribly unjust acts, but I don't believe their raise enough ire or outrage enough to generate the enormous tidal wave of will that a Constitutional change would require.

    Politicians are creatures of the hypothetical 'what if?' and the pardon is the ultimate 'what if?' benefit of winning an election.

    The public would have to force this on unwilling politicians. I don't see it.

    We know who Scooter is, and Rich is, because we are political junkies. But we also live in a land where millions cannot tell you the name of their own Governor or the name of either of their Senators and they don't know who Marc Rich was. And they don't give a shit.

    Millions don't want to know because they don't care.

    They want to be able to get up, go to work, come home and have a beer.

    If Americans had better judgment, or lazy people got off of their fat asses and voted every election, we wouldn't have these problems.

    I agree with you, this would be a positive change. But there has to be a catalyst to spark a revolutionary change in an institution.

    I believe it would take something so over the top, historically so, like a sitting President pardoning themselves for a terrible war crime, or a President pardoning their own child guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt of murder or rape on the way out the door, to create an environment where such a change would occur.

    "Scooter" is inside baseball to so many millions its scary, and pardoning him is not George W. Bush pardoning Jenna for killing a busload of children while driving with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit.  

    The Surge is a cheap college dormroom laundry detergent, not a foreign policy.

    by LeftHandedMan on Wed Mar 07, 2007 at 09:23:23 PM PST

  •  After Nixon, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Magnifico

    I think pardons should at very least be limited to those already convicted. No prophylactic pardons.

    As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. - Justice William O. Douglas

    by occams hatchet on Wed Mar 07, 2007 at 09:30:33 PM PST

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