Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Let's Change the way pardons are granted

I have no problem with giving the president the ability to pardon or commute the sentence of anyone who has been convicted by a federal court. It allows a fix for judicial errors and it allows the government to both express mercy and to apologize for wrongs it has committed.

When I was a kid, outgoing New Mexico governor Tony Anaya commuted the death penalty sentence for all inmates on death row. That was an act of principle.

George Bush's pardon of Scooter Libby was an act of... well, probably craven cowardice. I'll bet Libby asked Bush and Cheney if he should spend his five years in jail writing a tell-all book or if he could maybe not go to prison instead?

Doesn't matter. There are no requirements that a president explain his reasons for granting a pardon. A president can pardon anyone convicted of a federal crime, even on a whim. A president is limited only by the need to get re-elected or the need to keep poll numbers up. A a lame duck, Bush had nothing to lose.

But we should change the pardon rules because it represents a conrtradiction within the constitution. See, on one hand, we're all entitled to equal treatement under the law. On the other, a President can pardon one person, or commute their sentence while leaving somebody in the same circumstances in jail.

Bush claimed that Libby's sentence was excessive. But Victor Rita, a military veteran is currently serving the same sentence (33 months, so it's longer) for perjury.

So I say this, when Bush commuted Libby's sentence, it should be made to apply to "all people similarly situated." Why is Libby a better man than Rita? Just because he's friends with the president? Well, yes, that's the only answer.

So, change the rules in order to comply with the equal protection obligations of the government.

Just a thought.


At 2:05 PM , Blogger Ana Marie said...

Thosethingswesay's Mike Makes Time's Cox chuckle.


At 7:23 AM , Blogger Jon E. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 7:27 AM , Blogger Jon E. said...

I'm not sure the problem requires a rule change. The whole point of the power to pardon or grant clemency is that sometimes it's important to have at least one person who can grant mercy not available within the system. That provides a slight but welcome protection against gross miscarriages of justice. And since the power is only to free (rather than to convict) it accords with the presumption of innocence that undergirds our justice system.

Of course, having a chance to step outside the system raises the possibility of abuse. In general, I'm okay with that risk when the worst consequence is that somebody gets out of jail. But this administration has proven over and over again that it will distort the spirit and letter of any and all laws to get what it wants. Moreover, it has proven over and over again that it will simply ignore laws, including the Constitution which it ostensibly hires strict constructionists to stick to so closely. (See all the recent journalistic investigations of how Cheney operates.) So I don't think there's a pardon system in the world that could preserve the flexibility necessary to make it an actual pardon system while at the same time having enough restrictions to prevent this administration from violating the trust of the American people. Give them an inch, and they'll send a mile to be tortured in Egypt.

At 6:43 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can think of no good reason why any single government employee (including the president) should have the power to pardon anyone. I'd go along with giving the president the power to appoint a new judge and reopen a case if he thinks the law has been abused, but in my opinion, a presidential pardon without some kind of judicial review IS an abuse.


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