More on Pardons

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Josh Marshall writes:

Only a day after issuing a presidential pardon to Isaac Robert Toussie, a real estate scammer from Brooklyn, President Bush decided to reverse the pardon, after it emerged that Toussie’s father had contributed almost $30,000 to the Republican party.

Pardons are absolute. They can’t be reviewed or reconsidered or overturned, even by the president who issued them. According to the White House press release, President Bush had sent a “Master Warrant of Clemency” with 19 names to the Pardon Attorney at DOJ to execute. But he hadn’t executed it yet. In other words, the White House is claiming none of these folks had actually been pardoned yet. So the president can just send word now not to ‘execute’ that one pardon.

But at his Pardon Power blog, political scientist P.S. Ruckman Jr. writes that there is precedent even for a President revoking another President’s pardons. And he raises a larger point:

Ulysses S. Grant’s first clemency decision, on his third day in office, was to revoke two pardons granted by Andrew Johnson. Both men challenged Grant’s power to do so, and lost their case in federal court.

(snip)

Grant also revoked the pardon of James F. Martin, but the New York Times, reported that the official order from the State Department reached the U.S. Marshal in Massachusetts “too late.” That is to say, Martin had accepted his pardon and had exited the premises. No effort was made to put him back.

Finally Grant revoked the pardon of Richard C. Enright, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined $2,500 for conspiracy to defraud the government. Johnson granted a full pardon 12 months into the sentence but, before the pardon could reach Enright’s hands, Grant revoked it. Enright had to cool his heels another 8 months.

(snip)

Can George Bush revoke the pardon of Mr. Toussie? There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever, in my mind, that he can – “can” here means, he can do it and withstand a legal challenge.

Should George Bush revoke his own pardon? Probably not. Instead of using this fisasco as a chance to throw mud at people below him, Bush should instead use it as an opportunity to recognize that, when presidents are stingy with pardons and leave thousands of applicants high and dry, wealth, influence and access are much more likely to wiggle their way through the cracks and infect clemency decisions.

The solution is to staff and fund the Office of the Pardon Attorney more generously and grant more pardons on a regular basis, encouraging the idea that applications will receive a fair shake and reducing perceptions that one has to end-round the process to have even the proverbial snowball’s chance.

Ruckman also raises some interesting questions about the latest round of pardons here and here.

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