At its most basic level, justice means fairness and equity. This is something parents try to teach their children from an early age. If you do something right, you should be rewarded. If you do something wrong, you should be punished. If both you and your friend do the same thing right, you should both be rewarded equally. These are the founding principles of civilized society.
When the federal criminal justice system malfunctions, the president’s pardon is considered a failure.
But we do not live in that society, as President Donald Trump and his administration have once again proved. Trump’s recent round of apologies – combined with the Justice Department’s sprint to execute federal death row inmates before Inauguration Day – show his administration’s deep sabotage of justice.
The president is about to act as a failure-safe pardon if the federal criminal justice system malfunctions. As noted in “Federalist Papers” by Alexander Hamilton, “without easy access to exceptions in favor of an unfortunate crime, justice will hold a gross tropism and cruelty.”
The US Constitution grants presidents almost unaffected pardon power. Unless the President makes it clear to attempt to pardon a person in cases of impeachment, he is acting within his constitutional authority. Forgiveness can potentially be granted, meaning before a person commits a crime or is charged. This happened in 1974, when President Gerald Ford pardoned President Richard Nixon soon after his resignation.
And indeed, the modern history of presidential pardons is full of examples of presidents who provided a Get Out of Jail free card to friends, family members, and donors. President Bill Clinton forgives his stepbrother, Roger Clinton, and publicist Mark Richt. President George W. Bush waived former President Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby’s former chief of staff, as he was convicted of capital punishment and obstruction of justice.
Not to overtake his predecessors, standard-breaking Trump has issued some correct standard-breaking pardons, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, whom federal investigators told about his interactions with the Russian diplomat He was convicted of lying under oath.
But it turns out that Trump’s earlier apologies were just a teaser of the time to come. The use of his presidential pardon power by Trump has tested stress on this constitutional provision. Far from supporting the criminal justice system when it works, it has reduced it. In fact, their latest round is transparently transactional, having nothing to do with fairness or justice, and everything to do with rewarded loyalists, allies and, almost inexplicably, war criminals and disgraced politicians. And he hasn’t yet. (In an instant, which may prove to be the presenter, founder Father George Mason warns that presidents “should not have the power to pardon, because he can often forgive crimes that he himself advised.”
Trump on Tuesday pardoned two people who pleaded guilty in the investigation to former special counsel Robert Muller, in possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, three former members of Congress who engaged in public corruption, and U.S. government contractors Iraqi civilians, among others, who were found guilty of killing many people. These are self-pardon, not pardons serving justice.
At the same time, Trump’s Justice Department is running before January 20, 2021 to execute federal death row inmates. Why the crowd? Because President-Elect Joe Biden insisted on legislation to end federal executions.
In July, the Trump administration imposed a 17-year moratorium on federal executions. Ten people have been killed since the summer, and three more are to be executed before Biden’s opening. The Justice Department is determined to implement more federal executions during Trump’s lame-duck period in more than 100 years. For perspective, the federal government executed three people in the half-century before the 2003 moratorium. And for an even greater perspective, in 2020 the Trump administration jointly supervised the execution of more individuals than all 50 states.
This new round of federal executions takes place against the backdrop of a vigorous debate over whether even the death penalty provides justice.
The Trump administration’s unprecedented ramp-up of federal execution has prompted several US senators to ask the Justice Department’s oversight agency to investigate. The Senators wrote, “The reversal of long-standing DOJ policies and protocols for federal execution raises many questions about the fairness and application of these policies and protocols by the Trump administration.”
This new round of federal executions takes place against the backdrop of a vigorous debate over whether even the death penalty provides justice. Many critics argue that it is incredibly racially and economically unjust. Given this debate, the government’s sudden rush to execute its citizens seems particularly callgirl.
We are back to where we started, hoping for a society that rewards those who do good and punishes those who do harm. Trump’s corrosive use of pardon power and his rush to execute death row inmates would solidify his presidency as one of the most unjust in history.