An Unpardonable Action
Marc Rich decided to use his billions to flee to
Do you know what these men have in common?
If you think that such unquestioned power as provided in the form of the pardon is more appropriate for a monarch than for a President who is supposed to be accountable to the public, you are quite right. The pardon is a carry-over from the English monarchy, and the story of its inclusion in our system of government is a testament to its egregiousness.
At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the pardon’s inclusion was one of the pet causes of Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton, though more famous for his financial wizardry as the first secretary of the treasury, and of course for being shot by Aaron Burr, was well known in his day as a supporter of a powerful federal government. Many of his proposals at the Philadelphia Convention were interpreted by his peers as supporting a sort of elected monarch, a charge which was levied against him in later years, sullying his reputation. The pardon is one of the few of
Of course, American presidents have always been known for their fear of perceived “connivance.” This fear explains perfectly why Bill Clinton steadfastly refused to grant a pardon to his half-brother Roger, and why George W. Bush stood up to pressure from his own vice president to force Scooter Libby to pay off his debt to society. Oops.
President Bush can try to impress Americans by saying he deliberated at length over his choice to grant a reprieve to a man whose guilt is not even really contested, but it doesn’t really matter how long you consider a question if you still get the answer wrong. Libby’s sentence was not commuted in an attempt to show mercy on someone deserving of it, instead it was a political favor done to help the vice president’s friend, and, unlike any other action the president may take, there is nothing anyone can do about it but complain. Congress is unable to review a pardon and the courts can not reverse it. As a second term president, Bush no longer has to worry about the public turning him out of office, either.
Hamilton’s other argument in favor of the pardon power being in the president’s hands instead of the legislature is that in certain circumstances it will be beneficial to act quickly, and the legislature might allow “the golden opportunity” to pass. Like his first argument, this is more of a defense of monarchical power in total than a defense of the pardon, as the same argument could be applied universally, to every issue that can be raised.
The Founders decided that the legislative and judicial branches, as checks to the power of the president and to each other, were important enough to overcome the drawbacks of delay and indecision.
Whether presidents have ever been as scrupulous or cautious as