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March 21, 2006

Terrific article on the pardon power

Margaret Colgate Love, who served seven years as US Pardon Attorney under the first President Bush and President Clinton, has a fantastic article concerning the history and present state of the pardon power in the most recent issue of the ABA's Litigation magazine. The article, entitled "Reviving the Benign Prerogative of Pardoning" and available for download below, is an absolute must read for anyone interested in pardon law and policy. Here is a snippet:

Surely pardoning should rank among the happiest of sovereign duties — though it can also be among the most difficult when a life is at stake or public opinion is inflamed. And there is a compelling present need for pardon because the criminal justice system has never been more harsh and unforgiving.  Aggressive prosecution strategies and mandatory sentencing have filled our prisons to the bursting point and tagged more than 13 million of our fellow citizens with lingering collateral disabilities and the stigma of a criminal record. Evidently Justice Anthony Kennedy thought so when he called on the American Bar Association in August of 2003 to "consider a recommendation to reinvigorate the pardon process at the state and federal levels" — and evidently so did the ABA House of Delegates when it urged states and the federal government the following year to "expand the use of executive clemency."

If pardoning is so gratifying to the giver and so necessary to the system, why is there so little of it going on?  Why do governors and presidents act as if they no longer have the same freedom to pardon that their predecessors had?  How can we make them understand that, if pardoning was unacceptably dangerous a few years ago, it is now safe to go back in the water?  To get the answers, we need to look at the history and practice of pardoning in the United States.

Download litigation_winter2006_revivingthebenign.pdf

Related recent posts on pardons and clemency:

March 21, 2006 at 08:22 PM | Permalink


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It would be better if an institutional process were developed to free people of the collateral effects of criminal convictions at both the state and federal level upon meeting the kind of high standards typically found in pardon cases, as a matter of course.

Commutation of sentences is inherently not subject to that kind of mass production venture, and appropriately so. It is also far more rare in practice. But, greater use of the commutation power in high profile cases of injustice (Hamelin for example) would be a great step for a politician who had the credibility and dignity to be fair. Alas, those kinds of politicians seem to be rare. Ironically, widespread commutation of harsh sentences would probably have less political cost than the ad hoc approach focused on political allies that we see today, because it would show a certain measure of principled decision making.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Mar 22, 2006 4:26:13 PM

How does one go about asking for a pardon
ardon or clemency? What do they do?

Posted by: PC | Feb 10, 2007 4:12:40 AM

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