Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Against pardons

I'm picking up on a growing backlash against the presidential turkey pardon, the tongue-in-cheek tradition in which the president issues a pardon to 1-2 turkeys, who then don't get slaughtered and eaten on thanksgiving. Critics are pointing out that there are some human beings that deserve to be pardoned.

Maybe people point this stuff out every year. I just don't remember reading it before this week. Or maybe Obama's stingy record with presidential pardons is prompting new criticism this year.

While I'm for the end to the no-longer-all-that-funny turkey pardon, and I would welcome some specific pardons to help people who have been railroaded by the courts, I'm actually not a fan of the presidential pardon power itself. The power is a legacy of the British monarchy, based on the idea that the King was above the law. Because our president supposedly isn't, it really has no place in our system.

It is true that there are good pardons that can help people who have been wronged by the criminal justice system. But the remedy for that should be improving the justice system, not giving one individual the magical ability to wave a pen and make a crime go away. The fact that a presidential pardon has no limits and is unreviewable makes it ripe for abuse. It can and has been used to bail out a president's cronies and prevent prosecution of members of the president's own administration. If something like the pardon power as a way to remedy serious injustices in the criminal system, then let's give that power to a clemency board with some kind of accountability.