“After Trump: The Future of the President’s Pardon Power”

M_fsr.2021.33.5.coverThis is the title of the new issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter, which is now available online. As explained by the FSR editors in the issue’s introduction, FSR is continuing its tradition of exploring each president’s pardoning practices at the end of their term:

This Issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter shines a light on the state of clemency today, with an emphasis on the federal system and events of the Trump administration.  This Issue thus continues an FSR tradition of exploring federal clemency practices under each president, starting in 2001 after President Bill Clinton created controversies with final-day pardons.  Over the last twenty years, an array of commentators have analyzed the actions (and inactions) of four presidents, each of whom embraced quite different goals, perspectives, and strategies.  In addition to bringing thoughtful new perspectives to recent events, the articles assembled today by guest editor Margaret Love, the indefatigable advocate, scholar, and former Pardon Attorney, offer a roadmap to, in her words, “restore legitimacy to the pardon power and its usefulness to the presidency.”  The editors of FSR are — once again — deeply grateful for Ms. Love’s efforts and expertise.

I was honored that the editors again asked me to be guest editor of the pardon issue, which (along with a recent RAND study of racial bias in the pardon process) will hopefully provide useful guidance to the Biden Administration in a period when the uses of the power and its administration are being reconsidered.  The abstract of my introductory essay follows:

The guest editor’s introduction aims to provide an overview of Donald Trump’s extraordinary record of pardoning, and a road map to the essays in the Issue. Together the essays discuss ways to restore legitimacy to the pardon power and increase its usefulness to the presidency, by limiting some of the pardon power’s most extreme uses; supplementing the pardon power with statutory mechanisms to reduce prison sentences and mitigate collateral consequences, so that the president is no longer personally responsible for so much routine criminal justice business; and, managing the pardon power in a way that serves the presidency and not the parochial interests of federal prosecutors.

All of these ideas and arguments together suggest that the way to restoring pardon’s democratic legitimacy and usefulness to the president lies in shrinking the portfolio of routine chores for which pardon is now exclusively responsible, and in restoring the independence and stature of the pardon advisory process within the Justice Department. It would be both fitting and deeply ironic if Donald Trump’s irregular and undemocratic pardoning led to a more coherent and meaningful use of the constitutional power in the service of an enlightened presidential policy agenda, to a renewed commitment to the historically close relationship between pardon and the justice system, and even to a transformation of the Justice Department’s unforgiving prosecutorial culture.

Here are the articles in this new FSR issue:

Margaret Love

Margaret Love is CCRC's Executive Director. A former U.S. Pardon Attorney, she represents applicants for executive clemency in her private practice in Washington, D.C.. She is lead co-author of Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction: Law, Policy, and Practice (4th ed. 2021), and served as an advisor to the ALI Model Penal Code: Sentencing.

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