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November 10, 2022

"Dresser Drawer Pardons: Pardons as Private Acts"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Andrew Ingram now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Can a President issue a pardon without telling anyone but the recipient that she has issued it?  Yes, the President can grant a valid pardon without telling anyone but the recipient of her grace that she has done so.  While a defendant must plead a pardon for a court to take notice of it and quash an indictment, the document may otherwise lay buried in a sock drawer in case it is ever needed without losing any of its force or effect.

In this article, I make the case for secret pardons based upon Supreme Court precedent dating back to Chief Justice Marshall’s tenure on the Court.  In the years since Marshall’s 1833 ruling in United States v. Wilson, the Court has repeatedly reaffirmed the historical and formalist approach to the pardons clause that Marshall inaugurated.  Declaring that English practice should be the guide to the federal pardons clause, Marshall endorsed the understanding of pardons maintained by English treatise writers.  Marshall and the English writers describe pardons as a kind of deed or private act.

Besides validating secret pardons, the fact that pardons are to be treated as private acts or deeds also teaches us that oral pardons are likely invalid and that self-pardons are utterly nugatory.  Along the way to these conclusions, I confront the oddity of the Court-backed legal truth that pardons are private acts, explaining how a power with so many public consequences for the criminal justice system could possibly be considered a private act.  I also consider an abortive challenge to the historical–formalist approach to the pardon power established by Chief Justice Marshall that Justice Holmes raised in the 1920s.  Studying the clash between Marshall and Holmes allows us to see clearly the difference between Holmes’ legal realism and Marshall’s antiquarian formalism.

November 10, 2022 at 09:40 AM | Permalink

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