General Question


Should the President have the right to pardon as many criminals, no matter what their crime, as he wishes?

Asked by RANGIEBABY (2097points) August 4th, 2010

Should the President have to explain the reason for the pardon to the American public?

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34 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

I think he should have the right, and I think he should have to give an explanation.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I struggle with this – I don’t get why we have to give the President that right, but in some cases if nothing else works, it can be a good thing for some people unjustly jailed.

MrItty's avatar

I don’t quite understand what the framers’ logic was when they put that bit in the Constitution. But since it’s there, yes, he should exercise it.

ETpro's avatar

It is immaterial what you or I think, @RANGIEBABY. The Founding Fathers thought he should have such power, and ordained in in Article 8, Section 2 of the Constitution, which says the president “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”

It has been before the Supreme Court, and they have found it to extend widely to the right to grant “pardons, conditional pardons, commutations of sentence, conditional commutations of sentence, remissions of fines and forfeitures, respites and amnesties.” P.S. Ruckman, Jr. 1997. “Executive Clemency in the United States: Origins, Development, and Analysis (1900–1993),” 27 Presidential Studies Quarterly, 251–271

My personal opinion is I see no reason to amend the constitution to strip this power from presidents.


I agree with @Simone_De_Beauvoir . Most of the critters that are pardoned are those that committed horrible crimes and or were in some part helpful to get that President elected. I believe he should only have the right to use that power in a case where someone was imprisoned unjustly.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

The president should have the right but only direct it at the will of the people.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@ETpro Not to say that I don’t agree with you, but there is no reason why we can’t question why something was put into the Constitution and whether it makes sense in this day and age. Is our constitution something that is supposed to be untouchable? Mind you, I say that knowing exactly what those I disagree with would do with it and it’s horrifying but nonetheless, my question stands.

JLeslie's avatar

Yeah, but the president sometimes does let out people who should be let out, who are unfairly jailed with mandatory outrageous sentences.

crunchaweezy's avatar

Well if you don’t like it I think you should run for President, I’m sure you’d appreciate it.

ducky_dnl's avatar

No, if you commited a crime, then you need to do your time. Obama, nor any other president should have this right. He can play favourites and let out horrible people, and keep innocent people jailed. I had a friend who wrote a bad check for $40 and they jailed her for three days. The funny thing was that she paid it back before they jailed her, but she still served. She tried suing, but they can’t even find records of her arrest. It’s not fair that murderers and other horrible people can be pardoned, but my friend had to go through that.

ETpro's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I don’t know what the framers had in mind. I’ve never seen any discussion of that, as we do see on some of the more controversial aspects of the Constitution.

It is in the area where they laid out presidential duties and powers. If I had to guess, I would think they wanted some final arbiter for those cases where everyone knows what the letter of the law requires, but we might have done the same thing had we been in the guilty party’s shoes. All too often, Presidents seem to use it for crass political gain, to give a get-out-of-jail-free card to someone who is as guilty as hell, but who can do the President or the President’s party some good.

But realistically, it hasn’t been abused nearly enough to develop the weight of opinion against it that a Constitutional Amendment would require.


@ETpro The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
I read it to say against the UNITED STATES, not individuals against individuals.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@ETpro Yes, but how much is ‘enough’?


@ETpro FYI it is in the ” Article 2 of Section 2”, of the Constitution of the United States.


@ETpro But realistically, it hasn’t been abused nearly enough to develop the weight of opinion against it that a Constitutional Amendment would require.
I personally believe it has been abused enough, but neither party wants to make any changes, because it benefits both of them.

ETpro's avatar

@RANGIEBABY You are so right. Too late to edit my answer now, so I must live with the shame of having stated that wrongly. And yes, it is for offenses against the United States, not individual or property crimes, which are handled at the state level. Most state governors are given the same power over state law.

Regarding an Amendment, getting the parties involved in striping power from themselves was exactly my point. Public opinion would have to be so overwhelming that ⅔rds of Both Houses of Congress and ¾ths of the state legislatures would all vote to amend it. YOu would be asking politicians to take power away from themselves. Unlikely to ever happen.

john65pennington's avatar

No, not the president and not a governor. a jury of twelve men and women found this person guilty of some crime and one person should never have the power to set-aside a juries verdict of guilty. never.

JLeslie's avatar

@john65pennington But what about what I mentioned? The problem with seemingly unfair mandatory sentences.

perspicacious's avatar

Yes. It’s a power granted by the Constitution.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Intruiging that this has come up. My favorite podcast, Stuff you should know shameless plug just did one on this very subject. Alexander Hamilton apparently petitioned for it. The main idea was/is that the president can use it as a means of quelling social unrest. It was use this way during the whiskey rebellion, to pardon the rebels and get things moving again. And it worked. You can also make the case that it was used that way for Nixon, as it did (for better or worse) end the whole debacle and let everyone move on. So, for those of you wondering why it came about and what the framers were thinking, that’s what.

Also, keep in mind that this, like much of the constitution, came from English common law. Kings had the same sort of right over courts during that time in england. And probably still do. So that’s where it originally came from.

Kraigmo's avatar

If President Carter didn’t do a mass pardon of all draft dodgers, our government today would still be chasing down men who escaped to Canada to avoid the Vietnam war.

I’m glad Presidents have pardon rights, and they should use the power of the pardon thousands of times more than they do.

And legally, a president does not have to explain his actions. Morally of course, he does.


@Kraigmo Draft dodgers were offencens against the United States, and President Carter had a right to do what he did. We are talking about those that are pardoned for crimes that were not against the United States, and still getting pardons. So, in my opinion he does have to explain his actions.

TexasDude's avatar

Not particularly.


@BhacSsylan I have no idea how you came up with the of what the framers were thinking. It certainly was not in print that way in Article 2, Sec. of the Constitution. It may have been used that way during the whiskey rebellion, to pardon the rebels and get things moving again. But, that was not what it was written for, in my opinion. I would say someone that had committed treason, might qualify for a pardon, or someone that was a spy or selling top secrets, all of which are crimes against the United States.

Surreality's avatar

I understand why it’s there, but I don’t happen to agree with it. There have been people wrongly pardoned in the past, but oh well. I agree that they should have to explain it at the very least, and have substantial reasons rather than just signing it off before leaving office with no explanation.

daytonamisticrip's avatar

Anyone in jail should stay there until their sentence is over, unless new evidence shows that they were innocent.

BhacSsylan's avatar

@RANGIEBABY That information was from the letters that Alexander Hamilton wrote on defense of the presidential pardon. There was a lot of waffling over it at the time and his opinion helped get it in. You can listen to that podcast i linked, if you’d like. It goes over it in good detail.

Er, and what do you say it was written for? Just asking.

And, as far as the courts go, “against the united states” has been interpreted as being a federal crime, so any criminal felony. A president cannot step in in civil courts, nor any state courts, as has been stated.


@BhacSsylan can you please show me where it says And, as far as the courts go, “against the united states” has been interpreted as being a federal crime, so any criminal felony. A president cannot step in in civil courts, nor any state courts, as has been stated.
I would like to read it for myself.
I interpret it to say for treason or sedition.
Looking back at Clinton’s commutations and pardons, I believe he exceeded his power in many cases.

BhacSsylan's avatar

This is the article I’m taking my info from (or, rather, where my podcast took it from). About halfway down they state

“Pardons also don’t affect civil cases, or state or local cases. Pardons are meant to dismiss sentences stemming from affronts to the United States through the breaking of laws. They’re not intended to relieve an individual from his responsibility to make restitution to a victim’s family, for example, which would be considered a personal affront. So a presidential pardon of a criminal sentence would not relieve the defendant from paying restitution from a related civil case.”

Felonies are breaking of federal laws, and breaking a federal law is an affront to the United states, since federal laws are united states laws. This is how it is generally interpreted. I won’t say whether or not Clinton or any other president stepped over this, as I really don’t know enough about their particular pardons. I’m simply stating how it is read and generally executed, and why it came about, as you asked.


@BhacSsylan I read your article and I still disagree with you. I don’t think the framers intended the use of the pardon to be what it is today. This is part of your article In the era following the 1950s, the pardon power evolved into a broader interpretation, eventually becoming a political tool.
And that is exactly what I am talking about.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Sorry, but i specifically said I have no opinion of specific usages, since I do not know enough about them. You asked what the framers were thinking, I answered. That’s really all I meant to do. Frankly, I’m also not sure what you are disagreeing with me over. Just to say.


@BhacSsylan I guess my dismay is over the word “any” felony. Somehow I don’t believe that is what the framers intended, down to committing crimes that help an individual get elected to President, only to get their sentence pardoned and the President is left unscathed. In my opinion, that in itself should be a felony.
Things like this _

In 1983, financier Rich was indicted for evading more than $48 million in taxes, and charged with 51 counts of tax fraud, as well as running illegal oil deals with Iran during the 1979–1980 hostage crisis. During his last week in office, President Bill Clinton pardoned Rich, who had fled the U.S. during his prosecution and was residing in Switzerland. Clinton’s eleventh-hour move, along with pardons of his half-brother, Roger, and former business partner Susan McDougal, outraged Republicans and Democrats alike. The Rich pardon sparked an investigation into whether it was bought by the hefty donations Rich’s ex-wife, Denise, had given to the Clintons and the Democrats. In the end, investigators did not find enough evidence to indict Clinton. _
INVESTIGATORS did not find enough evidence to indict Clinton, yeah right. No president should be able to get away with that kind of blatant crime.

BhacSsylan's avatar

@RANGIEBABY And, again, i purposely did not comment on specifics. I don’t know enough to comment. I have heard of the Rich case, but not really enough to be sure of my opinion. All i wanted to say was the way it’s interpreted, and what the framers or at least Alexander Hamilton, the main proponent, was thinking. I’m sorry to have caused dismay.

The general thinking, as far as i can tell, is that to break a federal law is to affront the authority of the US, and so an ‘Offense against the United States’, as Article 2 puts it.

However, specifically for hamilton, he’d probably side more with you, as he says “in seasons of insurrection or rebellion, there are often critical moments, when a welltimed [sic] offer of pardon to the insurgents or rebels may restore the tranquillity [sic] of the commonwealth; and which, if suffered to pass unimproved, it may never be possible afterwards to recall”. As it was used in the whiskey rebellion.

And that’s about it for me. Sorry we had a sort of silly argument, but I hope my info helped somewhat.


@BhacSsylan silly us. perhaps just my interpretation of things are so black and white.
No harm done, however it did cause me to do a little reading I would have probably not done. So thanks.

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