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Does the US President Have the Right to Pardon Himself?

The Constitution gives the president the right to pardon anyone, except if the president is impeached.
Technically, President Richard Nixon could have pardoned himself.
The White House, home of the president of the United States.
The southern facade of the White House.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
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  • Last Modified Date: 24 June 2014
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The right to pardon is an authority given to the President of the United States (POTUS) by the US Constitution in Article II, Section 2. This section specifically reads that the POTUS “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” Essentially, the only way presidential pardon is restricted by the constitution is under the circumstance of the sitting president being impeached. Self-pardon is not restricted by law, and under interpretation by the Supreme Court, a president could have the right to pardon himself not only for crimes he has committed, but also for crimes with which he has not yet been charged. As of yet, no president has actually pardoned himself for committing crimes or from actions that might later be considered crimes.

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Failure to impeach a president who has been perceived of as having committed crimes, but has not been charged with such crimes means that the US would have no jurisdiction to convict the president of crimes if he exercised the right to pardon himself. However, in circumstances where international laws are broken, a presidential pardon has no bearing. The only possible solution for convicting a president of for example, war crimes, would be for an incoming president to extradite the former president to the country in which war crimes have been believed to be committed. The fact that a particular POTUS would have pardoned himself would not be given much weight in prosecution by the World Court, or by the court of another country.

There have been suggestions in the past that a specific POTUS would exercise the right to pardon himself. No president has done so at present, even though some presidents were convicted of crimes and could have exercised the right. When President Ford took office he pardoned President Nixon, not exactly a popular move. Since Nixon was not impeached but instead resigned, one of his last acts could have been a self-pardon. Similarly, President Clinton could have pardoned himself for perjury but chose not to do so. If a president commits or is charged with a crime while in office, the succeeding president often grants pardon, though this may not always be a popular decision.

Typically, a president could pardon himself, and according to most interpretations, could pardon himself prior to being charged with a crime. This has led to the argument that the right to pardon should be abridged or rewritten, to prevent a president from acting in this fashion, and thus avoiding prosecution for crimes when he or she leaves office. Others argue that the circumstances under which a pardon would be abused in this manner are so rare it is not worth changing the law, and that presidents given the opportunity to pardon themselves in the past have not done so.

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Discuss this Article

pollick
Post 4

This sounds like one of those unanswerable thought problems, like "Could God create a rock so big that even He couldn't lift it?". A person given the legal power of forgiveness could theoretically forgive himself, but the deeper question would be who would give someone that much power without any scrutiny? By the time a person reaches the level of a country's leader, he or she has usually been vetted and examined and investigated and checked dozens of times.

People with the authority to keep the president in check wouldn't hesitate to question a decision to self-pardon. I'm sure he or she could get out of a traffic ticket, but if he or she committed a serious felony like mass murder, I don't believe a self-pardon would stand up in a World Court or UN or Supreme Court trial.

I remember hearing that Secret Service agents were once asked by Nixon's chief-of-staff to inform him of any unusual actions by the president during his last few weeks in office. There were apparently some concerns that Nixon would become overwhelmed with emotion and order an unprovoked military action or something equally as irrational. The fact remains that nothing happened. I don't know if another sitting president would ever come close to committing significant criminal acts while in office.

Older white collar crimes may come back to haunt a president, like the Whitewater deal during Clinton's term, but there are too many eyes on a sitting president for him or her to escape notice.

anon43947
Post 3

If the POTUS has the legal right to pardon himself for crimes he hasn't yet commited, what's the point of a legal system at all? The President can pardon anyone he feels like, which means he could effectively assassinate the entire cabinet, senate, and House and pardon himself immediately afterwards, and then basically just take over the country, with no legal ramifications. It's basically like saying, "please become a dictator!"

anon25600
Post 2

That seems kind of weird. If anyone ever does an update to this really interesting and informative article, I would also wonder if a President can pardon himself for a crime for the purpose of going out and committing it (like if fictional Evil President Ted pardons himself for murder and then strangles his wife's on national TV). If so, I'm surprised I haven't seen any movies with a similar plotline.

anon23402
Post 1

1) A president could pardon everyone in his administration including the Vice President.

2) He could then resign

3) the Vice President who would then become the succeeding president could return the favor by pardoning the resigning president.

4) An amendment to the Constitution would also have to take this into account.

5) The president could kill two birds with one stone! The succeeding President (ex Vice President) would be entitled to all the benefits afforded to all retired presidents

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