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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Pardon and De Facto Dictatorship

As Darren Samuelsohn reports at Politico, Gingrich says Congress should change the law to allow Trump's conflicts of interests.  If it doesn't, he says, no biggie:  Trump can just pardon his kids.
“We’ve never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don’t work,” Gingrich said Monday during an appearance on NPR’s "The Diane Rehm Show" about the president-elect’s business interests. “We’re going to have to think up a whole new approach.”
And should someone in the Trump administration cross the line, Gingrich has a potential answer for that too.
“In the case of the president, he has a broad ability to organize the White House the way he wants to. He also has, frankly, the power of the pardon,” Gingrich said. “It’s a totally open power. He could simply say, ‘Look, I want them to be my advisers. I pardon them if anyone finds them to have behaved against the rules. Period. Technically, under the Constitution, he has that level of authority.”
Yale's Noah Messing suggests that a president might actually try to push the power that far:
The presidential pardon power is widely assumed to apply only to federal crimes — but not to civil offenses. No scholar, however, has ever carefully reviewed whether presidential clemency extends to civil offenses or explored the potential implications of this power. This Article provides the first-ever close study of whether presidential clemency is available for civil offenses. It concludes that presidents may pardon civil offenses — thus unearthing a new executive power, albeit one that has existed since 1787.
The Article consults the various types of historical evidence that the Supreme Court has stated are most relevant to determining the scope of the pardon power: historical practices in England and the colonies, records from the Constitutional Convention, and English common law — as well as an array of other interpretive tools.

The Article relies on the fact that “civil” offenses, as we now understand them, either were criminal offenses at the Founding or involved activities that went unpunished. In other words, there were no “civil” offenses (as we now know them) at the Founding; they arose only in the 1840s, as Felix Frankfurter memorialized in his 1925 article about the blurring lines between criminal and civil offenses. This Article shows, however, that the most analogous offenses prior to the advent of civil offenses could have been pardoned and were, in fact, pardoned by both presidents and English monarchs (whose acts of clemency the Supreme Court consults to assess the scope of the pardon power). In short, the various tools by which the Supreme Court assesses the breadth of the pardon power uniformly support the conclusion that civil offenses may be pardoned. The Article ends by launching a preliminary discussion of the uses and implications of this power.