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Presidential Abuse of Pardoning and Clemency Power Must Be Curbed


By Hans von Spakovsky / /at The Daily Signal

President Barack Obama is not the first president to overuse the pardoning and clemency power. (Photo: Sipa USA/Newscom)

Portrait of Hans von Spakovsky Hans von Spakovsky is an authority on a wide range of issues—including civil rights, civil justice, the First Amendment, immigration, the rule of law and government reform—as a senior legal fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and manager of the think tank’s Election Law Reform Initiative


Those of us concerned over President Barack Obama’s excessive use of his power under Art. II, §2, Cl. 1 of the Constitution to grant pardons and commutations to hundreds of drug dealers, many of whom also were convicted of firearms offenses (and therefore, contrary to what the president said, not nonviolent offenders), should realize that he is not the first president to misuse that authority.

When former President Bill Clinton was reminiscing this week in his prime-time speech to the nation at the Democratic National Convention, he forgot to mention the scandalous pardons he issued at the end of his administration.

My colleague, Paul Larkin Jr., has a very informative article in the summer issue of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy on “Revitalizing the Clemency Process.” He points out that:

Recent presidential abuses of the pardon power have poisoned the well. For example, President Bill Clinton was twice guilty of that crime. He offered conditional commutations to the members of a Puerto Rican terrorist group, the Armed Forces of National Liberation (or FALN), very possibly to enlist the support of the Puerto Rican community for his wife Hillary’s upcoming Senate race and for Vice President Al Gore’s campaign to replace him as president. Clinton also used his clemency power promiscuously in his last 24 hours in office, granting pardons and commutations the same way that a drunken sailor on shore leave spends money. Clemency recipients were often people (or their representatives) with strong White House connections or who had contributed generously to the president’s party or his own presidential library. Clinton’s clemency decisions have left a pall over the entire process.

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