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Presidential Pardon

The doctrine of pardon, or clemency, also known as presidential pardon, is prevalent in several nations across the world. Here, we will have a look at it from the US perspective.
Scholasticus K May 12, 2019
The term is self-explanatory; the President, with sufficient authorization from people and the Constitution, pardoning someone by revoking the sentence issued by the court of law.
This doctrine is present throughout the world and any authorized head of state, like a prime minister, president, chancellor, or even a monarch can pardon people, but only if he has sufficient authorization by law.

What is a Presidential Pardon?

In the US, Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution empowers the President to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment. The United States Supreme Court has interpreted this as an authority to grant pardons, commutations for sentences, conditional commutations, respite, amnesties and remissions.
Thus, any decision by the court―specifically the Supreme Court―can be changed, stayed, or canceled in total by making an appeal to the President. The public interpretation of the system is that pardon is granted to cure judicial error. However, there have been instances wherein this power was abused for political or other benefits.
The pardon process begins with the pardon petition being addressed to the President. After being filed, a non-binding review of the petition is made by the Office of the Pardon Attorney of the United States Department of Justice.
The Office of the Pardon Attorney makes a recommendation―again a non-binding one―to the President, following which the President can take a decision. The Department of Justice has advocated and recommended that a person must wait for a minimum of 5 years before filing a petition.
The stipulated time is merely a recommendation; the process can be initiated at any point of time. In fact, there have been instances when US presidents have pardon the accused even before the conviction. Furthermore, in some cases, clemency or pardon is granted even before the petition is filed.

Historical Instances of Pardon

  • One of the most high-profile cases was that of President George Washington pardoning the leaders of the Whiskey Rebellion.
  • More recently, President Bill Clinton pardoned 140 people on the last day of his office.
  • In 1974, President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for misconduct when in office.
  • In the post American Civil War era, Andrew Johnson pardoned several Confederate Generals, politicians, and leaders.
  • George W. Bush similarly pardoned draft dodgers and some of the Regan administration officials who were accused in the high-profile Iran-Contra case.
Judgments and decisions of presidential pardon have been controversial, however, the power of pardon is a great example of how the constitution protects people in every possible manner, even from legislature and judiciary itself.