Letter: Let's think about the power of pardons

Editor of the Reformer:

Here are some thoughts on the pardon power. I think we are agreed that pardon is a get-out-of-jail-free card. But is it a get-out-of-indictment card? Or a get-out of-future-prosecution card? How is it meaningful to have a power to release people from a penalty or restraint that is not yet incurred? Or, for that matter, that has not even yet had any actions taken for which it might be incurred? Can a pardon cover crimes yet to be indicted, let alone adjudicated? I mean, what is such a pardon effectively doing? What does it claim power over? Nothing? Surely any power of the president must have some concrete object or person to exert power over. And if it makes no sense for there to be any power over what no department of government has yet taken any action on, it most certainly makes no sense to have such a power over what might be done in response to actions yet undertaken. But what distinguishes a "blanket pardon" between one covering crimes as yet indicted or adjudicated, and crimes yet to be committed? Can a pardon be a license to commit crime? Certainly no one in his or her right mind would think so. But consider, if someone receives a "blanket pardon", doesn't this render Fifth Amendment rights quaint? For instance, if Trump pardons himself, would he them lose his right to plead the Fifth, and so be required to answer for his crimes? And wouldn't his refusal to testify, at that point, become a crime? Or, if he pardons Manafort, wouldn't this be tantamount to requiring him to turn state's evidence? Can a pardon possibly be construed to cover unindicted, un-adjudicated, and future crimes?

Gary M. Washburn

Brattleboro, June 10


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