Letter: America’s pardon crisis

Friday, June 08, 2018

According to the president and his crack legal team, he absolutely has the right to pardon himself. But of course he won’t, because he’s done nothing wrong. Methinks they doth protest too much.

The central question – can a president pardon himself? – is far from settled law. There is no precedent; most legal scholars are skeptical. The Constitution appears to place no limit; the Federalist Papers are mute on the question. Perhaps the Founders felt they didn’t need to clarify such a limit, because the notion of a chief executive absolving himself of a crime is utterly inimical to democracy and the rule of law. To test the question would be a crisis for our country. Not even Nixon went so far.

But the president is keen to push boundaries, blunders outside democratic norms and expresses contempt for the rule of law. So perhaps it is worth clarifying with a constitutional amendment: The president’s power to pardon does not extend to himself.

To make it clear this is about the Office of the President, and not Trump alone, the amendment’s effective date could be set after 2020, or 2024. Even short of full ratification, passage of the amendment through Congress would be a clear signal – to the president and to the people.

To Trump supporters who still think this is much ado about nothing, I urge them to ask themselves: How outraged would they be if a President Hillary started claiming that she could pardon herself?