Pardon Me? A look at the history and use of presidential pardons.


Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Prescott Valley Event Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona.

Daniel Madtes, Staff Writer

Ever since Joe Biden won the presidency, President Trump has been talking about pardoning his allies and himself, but the question is can he do that, and why is it that the president can decide who is above the law?

According to the Constitution of Article Two, Section Two, a pardon is defined as “Shall have power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” In much simpler terms, it means that the president can exempt anyone convicted of a crime. He is not the first to consider pardoning himself. Nixon was considering pardoning himself, but the Department of Justice told him he cannot do that because it is unconstitutional.

Gerald Ford, Nixon’s VP and his successor, pardoned Nixon. Also, it does state that you cannot pardon someone for cases of impeachment. So even if Donald Trump could pardon himself, he would not be able to. So no, he cannot pardon himself.

But the other question is why do we have pardons to begin with? It starts, in part, with Alexander Hamilton. In the Federalist Papers when he wrote in No. 74 that “without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel.” In simpler terms, it is a form of checks and balances against the judiciary system. But, even though this was created for justice against wrongfully accused, the Constitution does not state or provide details into why and when that power should be used.

This has been used by presidents throughout history to either maintain public order, or to bolster their legacies and their own gain. Trump faces controversy of pardoning those closest to him, such as pardoning Michael Flynn, who admitted lying to the FBI and initially cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. But, compared to other presidents, he has made less pardons. Former President Barack Obama, who did not pardon anyone who was close to him, issued 212 pardons and 1,715 commutations, which is reducing punishment for a crime, during his time in office. Obama pardoned those who did not have high profile cases mostly and were low level offenders, Which is why these were not big issues at the time. These were issued for various drug offenses such as possession or use of cocaine, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamines and conspiracy to import marijuana. When asked why, Obama stated that the people who are convicted of these crimes have kids who grow up without parents, it is also young men of color that are being arrested and in prison at higher rates.

Trump is receiving more backlash because he is pardoning those who have committed violent crimes. He has pardoned the four Blackwater guards who were convicted of killing Iraqi civilians. He will also pardon Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter who were about to serve extensive prison sentencing for insider trading and embezzlement for campaign funds, and will be pardoning Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, two of his most trusted campaign allies involved in the investigation by Robert Mueller.

This is the argument for those that believe pardons should be abolished. That the president can let anyone go no matter what they did, and that the people the president will pardon will be for his own advantage. However, pardons can also be used to give those who committed crimes that people believe should not have been convicted of or be punished for like non-violent drug offenders a reprieve. The president has the power to decide who is above the law, it’s just a question of who it should apply to, and whether it benefits the American people or himself.