Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pardon Me

At the suggestion of a good friend, I'm gonna share a few thoughts about the whole process of Presidential pardons.

Recently Bush pardoned 14 people, and commuted two sentences. It's expected that he'll pardon more people as the end of his term approaches. This is pretty routine for Presidents, and it's a pretty spectacular power.

My understanding is the the President can pardon anyone for any crime (under U.S. law of course), and the decision is unreviewable.

This raises some really interesting hypotheticals. None of these would ever happen of course - our Presidents are generally much too intelligent and good-willed, and though people might disagree with individual pardons this is a power that is rarely, if ever, abused - but there are some fun possibilities.

Hypo #1. The President pardons everybody. Bam. No more overcrowding of jails. Saves costs. Gives everyone a second chance since there aren't any convicted felons. Obviously this isn't the wisest possibility, given violent criminals and all of that, (and I'd never support this), but there's something to be said about forgiveness, and a universal pardon might have some powerful positive effects in a lot of people's lives. Dangerous, perhaps, but intriguing none-the-less.

Hypo #2. The President pardons everybody except one person.
Part A. That person is Charles Manson. Can you imagine how angry he'd be? He's crazy, he's angry, he's dangerous, and given his crimes he should never be released into the general population (exactly the reason Hypo 1 is a bad idea), but how would we feel if everyone else were pardoned and he weren't?
Part B. That person is some random minor felon, convicted on weak evidence. How much would it stink to be this person? To be the one person left in prison while everybody else - even Manson - gets a pardon? How wrong would this be? How would we as a society feel about letting just one person pay for a crime they might have committed, when others are let go?

Hypo #3. The president pardons only Manson. Would this instantly qualify that president as the worst judge of character in history?

Hypo #4. The president pardons only white people. Let's suppose the President is a racist. The decision is blatant discrimination. Yet these are unreviewable pardons. Seriously, what's the outcome here? My guess is that we'd see a pretty quick amendment to the Constitution, right? Of course, we probably would in almost all of these cases. But if the President can pardon anyone, or any group, for any reason, then that opens the door for personal prejudices, right? I mean, white-collar criminals get pardoned a lot more than anyone else, so maybe there's already a bit of classism in the process, right?

That's all I've got for now. Any thoughts? Any other crazy pardon hypos? This is interesting stuff to think about, even if none of it will ever happen (thank God!).

But I know I had it comin',
I know I can't be free


Mike said...

My favorite "pardon hypo" is the one wherein we get a president who has, at one time, used marijuana (like, say, Clinton, Bush, or Obama), and thus realizing the ridiculousness of our laws regarding this drug, pardon all criminals, past and present, who were convicted of any sort of non-violent drug related crime. (Also, you can replace marijuana with anything of questionable illegality.) It would put the issue of legalization at the forefront of conversations across the country, and it would be like the president legislating from the White House (which, it suddenly occurs to me, is eerily similar to signing statements).

Thus far, from what little I've read about the Bush 14, they've seemed to be pretty scattered. I'd love to know more about how they came to the president's attention and how the decision was made that these folks were worthy.

It also occurs to me that any one of these scenarios would make an interesting topic for a novel. Dibs!

Thinking Fool said...

I thought the president can only grant pardons for FEDERAL crimes. That would leave Chucky Manson and a whole slew of people out of Bush's reach.