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The Iran-Contra Pardon Mess, 29 Houston Law Review 883 (1992)


Let us begin at the beginning: The presidential pardon power is plenary. If a good President uses it to clear the record of civil rights protesters, convicted years ago, let us say, of trespassing on federal land, neither the Congress nor the courts may sit in review. If a wicked President uses it to shield white supremacists from a courageous federal prosecutor, there is no recourse. If the President uses the power to make amends for the society's unwillingness to acknowledge religious differences, as President George Bush did on Christmas Eve of 1992, no entity but the public can bring him to brook; and if he uses it to prevent the prosecution of those who carried out a controversial and probably illegal policy, as President Bush also did on Christmas Eve of 1992, that is his right. In particular, there is nothing even constitutionally fishy in the President's use of the pardon power to frustrate the will of the other branches, or to limit their ability to inquire into executive affairs—as President Bush plainly did when he granted pardons to several of the major figures in the Iran-Contra scandal. To say that it cannot be used that way is as silly as saying that the Congress should not use its legislative power to criminalize policy disputes with the executive branch—the rather thin explanation that President Bush offered for his last-minute decision.

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