Speaking about Pardons...

>> Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Erick Holder the man to be nominated by Barack Obama for the position of attorney general is under fire for his involvement in the pardoning of Marc Rich at the end of the Clinton administration. His role appears to have been more than incidental in the affair. However i think we need to take a step back and think about the nature of presidential pardons in general. The Presidential pardon power is virtually unlimited, except in cases where the crime stems from impeachment. It is one of the most sweeping powers granted to the executive. There is even a question of whether the president may legally pardon himself, i tend to think that he cant. The entire debate around the rich pardon is a circus not made less by comments like these,

“Marc Rich was a fugitive for nearly two decades, wanted by the federal government for fraud and tax evasion,” Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said Monday after the nomination was announced. Referring to Mr. Holder’s actions, Mr. Smith added, “If a Republican official had engaged in this kind of activity, he would never receive Senate confirmation.”

Really? Smith seems to be making a point that republicans would never be allowed to discuss the pardon of criminals. I think he might want to think about the whole scooter libby thing. Most of the major republican presidential candidates backed pardoning libby, a man who obstructed justice when he tried to prevent prosecutors from learning who leaked the name of an undercover cia agent.

Scooter Libby did things far more offensive to me than fleeing to switzerland and failing to pay taxes. He was involved in covering up the lies and deceit that were used to get us into Iraq. Imagine the kind of fuss the republicans would raise if a democratic president pardoned the person who helped him lie us into war. Complaining about Marc Rich without doing so in light of the myriad other pardons like Scooter Libby that are arguably worse is disingenuous.

Pardons are supposed to be a matter of corrective equity. They exist to balance the scales of justice when the application of the law to a given fact set results in an unjust outcome. To have them used as a means to clean up after the misdeeds of the pardon giver is in opposition to the purpose for which they exist. Until we amend the constitution to deal with the sweeping and, i believe, overly broad pardon powers we are going to continue on this path of pardons for those who dont deserve it but are in positions where the pardon is advantageous to the pardoner.


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