A Presidential Pardon Cover Letter

A Presidential Pardon Cover Letter

Last Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that President Bush had granted pardons to 14 individuals and commuted the prison sentences of two others convicted of misdeeds ranging from drug offenses to tax evasion, from wildlife violations to bank embezzlement.

The new round of White House pardons were Bush’s first since March and come less than two months before he will end his presidency. The crimes committed by those on the list also include offenses involving hazardous waste, food stamps and the theft of government property.

Bush has been relatively stingy in handing out such reprieves. Including these actions, he has granted 171 pardons and eight commutations in nearly eight years. That’s less than half as many as Presidents Clinton or Reagan issued during their 8-year tenures in office.

Constitutional Authority for Presidential Pardons
The presidential power to pardon is granted under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution.

“The President … shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”

That’s all the Constitution says. As you can see there are no standards as to how to grant or qualify for a Presidential Pardon, and only one limitation–pardons can’t be granted for those that have been impeached.

What the Founding Fathers Said
The whole subject of presidential pardons stirred little debate at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Alexander Hamilton, writing in Federalist Paper No. 74, suggested a potential benefit from granting pardons, “… in seasons of insurrection or rebellion, there are often critical moments, when a well-timed offer of pardon to the insurgents or rebels may restore the tranquility of the commonwealth.”

While a few other Founding Fathers suggested involving Congress in the pardons business, Hamilton remained certain the power should rest solely with the president. “It is not to be doubted, that a single man of prudence and good sense is better fitted, in delicate conjunctures, to balance the motives which may plead for and against the remission of the punishment, than any numerous body [Congress] whatever,” he wrote in Federalist Paper No. 74.

So, except for impeachment, the Constitution places no restrictions whatsoever on the president in granting pardons. President Bush has stated

“Should I decide to grant pardons, I will do so in a fair way. I will have the highest of high standards.” [From: Press Conference – Feb. 22, 2001]

But what about those “standards” President Bush has promised to apply to any pardons he may grant? Where and what are they?

Loose Legal Standards for Presidential Pardons
While the Constitution places no significant limitations on Presidents in granting pardons, we have certainly now witnessed the grief that can come to presidents or former presidents who appear to grant them haphazardly, or show favoritism in the act. Part of the issue surrounding President-Designate Barack Obama’s pick of Eric Holder for Attorney General was an ill-thought recommendation for a pardon. On the last day of President Bill Clinton’s term in 2001, Holder told the White House he was “neutral, leaning toward favorable” regarding a presidential pardon for Marc Rich, a wealthy commodities dealer who had spent years running from tax charges. Rich’s ex-wife, Denise, was a prominent Democratic Party donor.

It turned out to be a bad call. The pardon provoked howls of protests and a congressional investigation over whether it was politically motivated. Holder later publicly apologized for what he called a snap decision and said he would have advised against it had he paid more attention to the case.

Presidents do have some legal resources to draw upon when saying, “I granted the pardon because…” Operating under the guidelines of Title 28 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Sections 1.1 – 1.10, the U.S. Pardon Attorney, of the Justice Department’s Office of Pardon Attorney “assists” the president by reviewing and investigating all requests for pardons. For each request considered, the Pardon Attorney prepares the Justice Department’s recommendation to the president for the final granting or denial of the pardon. Besides pardons, the president may also grant commutations (reductions) of sentences, remissions of fines, and reprieves.

But the recommendations of the Pardon Attorney to the president are just that — recommendations and nothing more. The president, bound by no higher authority than Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, is in no way required to follow them and retains the ultimate power to grant or deny clemency.

For more information regarding Presidential Pardons, or if you are interested in applying for a pardon yourself, you can start with the U.S. Justice Department’s Pardon Information and Instructions. Additionally, Jerome P. Mullins, a California Attorney, has a website that explains the 12 Steps to a Federal Pardon. It’s worth the time to look at Attorney Mullins site for detailed legal descriptions of the different classes of benefits conveyed by a pardon and why it may be worthwhile to seek a pardon.

Thanks for reading.

-Matthew S. Urdan

Add This! Blogmarks BlogLines del.icio.us Digg Facebook Google Google Reader MyShare Ask.com Netscape reddit Sphere StumbleUpon Technorati Plugin by Dichev.com

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!