Thursday, December 25, 2008

Pardon Me

As someone who loves his caterwauling and appreciates its value, I have no complaint about the periodic bout of caterwauling that attends the outgoing president's use of his pardon powers. It's a predictably hideous spectacle we've come to expect every four or eight years here in the USA, always between election day and inauguration day, when a used-up president finds himself in need of nothing more than funding for his pointless eponymous library, so he begins answering all those pardon requests stacked in his inbox.

So it is with the soon-departing president Bush, who is granting pardons that -- surprise of surprises! -- seem questionable in many instances. Fair enough. But then there's this sort of caterwauling, which crosses a line:

The White House said the Justice Department [DOJ] did not review [some cockroach]’s clemency application because it “was filed less than five years after [cockroach] completed his sentence,” thus making him ineligible for a pardon according to the department’s guidelines. Instead, the White House counsel’s office considered [cockroach]’s application as a special case. But not only has press secretary Dana Perino repeatedly stated that the White House would follow DoJ’s pardon guidelines, but so has President Bush himself ...
I suppose I grant the point about hypocrisy -- Bush said he'd follow DOJ guidelines on pardons, now Bush is not following DOJ guidelines on pardons -- but what does the DOJ actually have to do with pardons? If you believe the US Constitution, which actually delineates the pardon power, the answer is nothing. Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1 says that the president
shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
There's nothing about DOJ guidelines there. Maybe they should be; maybe the DOJ guidelines embody oodles of hard-won wisdom on the subject, and maybe the US Constitution would be a better document if it included them. But it doesn't.

We live with the limits on presidential powers we have, not with the limits on presidential powers we wish we had. One of the many reasons it matters greatly whom we elect as president is the open-ended, plenary nature of the pardon power.

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