Pubdate: Thu, 12 Apr 2001
Source: Rolling Stone (US)
Copyright: 2001 Straight Arrow Publishers Company, L.P.
Author: Dan Baum


With all the attention being given to Bill Clinton's pardons on his last 
day in office, it is important to note that this authority is provided 
expressly in the Constitution, and the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld it 
again and again.

Presidents often explain their pardons in patriotic terms: James Madison 
pardoned Jean Lafitte and his fellow Barataria pirates, because they helped 
save New Orleans from the British in the War of 1812. (Lafitte returned to 
his trade after the war, preying mostly on Spanish ships.) Gerald Ford 
announced that he would pardon Richard Nixon for the good of the country: 
"My conscience tells me it is my duty, not merely to proclaim domestic 
tranquillity but to use every means that I have to insure it." When George 
Herbert Walker Bush granted clemency for six defendants in Iran-Contra, he 
explained that "the common denominator of their motivation whether their 
actions were right or wrong was patriotism." Anticipating the widespread 
criticism that followed that Bush pardoned the men to avoid a trial in 
which his own role in Iran-Contra might be explored he tried to 
preemptively dismiss it. "No impartial person has seriously suggested that 
my own role in this matter is legally questionable," he wrote.

Department of Justice data on pardons is incomplete, but since I934, there 
appears to be little difference between Democratic and Republican 
presidents in terms of their generosity, according to political-science 
professor P.S. Ruckman Jr., of Rock Valley College in Rockford, Illinois, 
who is compiling data on presidential pardons. Still, people seem to think 
a Democratic president will be a softer touch. In the twelve Reagan-Bush 
years, the White House typically received less than 200 clemency requests - 
but when Clinton came in, that number jumped to more than 500, and it 
topped out at more than a thousand last year. To most of these petitioners, 
Clinton was a disappointment. For all the brouhaha, it turns out that he 
ranks near dead center twentieth out of forty-one presidents in his 
willingness to issue pardons.
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