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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Should we get rid of, or limit, the (Presidential) pardon?

With every opportunity to grant a Presidential pardon, there invariably arises the question of whether we (as a society) could fare BETTER if we got rid of the that Presidential power. This time it's "Scooter" Libby that may be the subject of a Presidential pardon, and the wisdom of allowing the President that power has arisen again. This Joel Stein column makes for an interesting reading. Here are excerpts:
It's not that I care if "Scooter" Libby gets pardoned. Sure, he obstructed justice, but putting someone named Scooter in jail seems a little harsh. Putting someone named Scooter in elementary school seems a little harsh.
I object to the idea of the pardon itself. I might have dropped my political science major, but I know that giving one person the right to let people out of jail without any reason might lead to abuse of power. This is why we don't give one person the right to put people in jail without any reason.
I know the pardon leads to corruption because if I were President Bush, I'd pardon the hell out of Libby. If a guy working for me got arrested for essentially protecting my No. 1 employee, and I had an unlimited stack of get-out-of-jail-free cards, I'd slip him one for sure.
The pardon, which had been the right of the monarch since Henry VIII, was put into Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution by Alexander Hamilton, who argued in the Federalist Papers that without it, "Justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel." Hamilton did not realize that in the future, judges would cry about Anna Nicole Smith. He also didn't realize that challenging Aaron Burr to a duel might kill him. So maybe we shouldn't be taking advice from the guy.
It turns out that despite Hamilton's expectations, not many poor people without political connections get spared the cruelty of justice. In fact, almost all presidential pardoning has been bad policy. The first one was used by George Washington to forgive members of the Whiskey Rebellion. I don't know all that much about the Whiskey Rebellion, but I'm guessing from the words "whiskey" and "rebellion" that these might not be the first guys you'd want to let out of San Quentin. Unless the only other people there were members of the Meth Rape Bunch.
To unite the country, Andrew Johnson kept pardoning Southerners for fighting in the Civil War, thus emboldening that culture so much that we got Confederate flag decorations, Stone Mountain and the Iraq war. Jimmy Carter forgave Vietnam draft dodgers, which took away all their edge, leading directly to yuppiedom, David E. Kelley TV shows and the Iraq war.
Most other pardons went to powerful friends of the president: Richard Nixon pardoned longtime supporter Jimmy Hoffa; Gerald R. Ford pardoned Nixon; Carter, in the most 1970s pardon possible, granted one to Peter Yarrow from Peter, Paul and Mary for taking off his clothes and hitting on two teenage sisters. Ronald Reagan, in the most '80s pardon possible, let campaign contributor George Steinbrenner off the hook. George H.W. Bush let Nixon campaign donor Armand Hammer and all his fellow Iran-contra friends go; Bill Clinton handed pardons out to anyone who told him he was pretty.
Pardoning subverts justice, snubbing the democratic concept of being judged by your peers. If Nixon had stood trial, the truth would have healed the country far more than trying to ignore Watergate, and the presidency might have been taken down a peg. If Caspar Weinberger had gone to jail, perhaps future presidents -- and their henchmen -- might have trod more carefully on our laws. ... .

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