President Bush’s policy of cronyism didn’t reach its worst today, but it was certainly as evident as ever. President Bush commuted Scooter Libby’s 30-month sentence down to probation and a fine. Fear not though, President Bush would never go so far as to pardon Libby- that would just be crazy.
You can find the full text of President Bush’s address here(subscription required). President Bush essentially spends what was probably 4-5 minutes of his speech outlining the reasons why Scooter Libby didn’t get a fair shakes, then says that he listened to people on both sides of the debate. He concludes:
I respect the jury’s verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend 30 months in prison.
My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby. The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant and private citizen will be long-lasting.
Well, it was more or less inevitable. During the most recent Republican debate, when the candidates were asked if they would pardon Libby, they all replied that they would. Even if they didn’t, it wouldn’t be hard for President Bush to simply add Libby to his list of midnight pardons(20 of Clinton’s went towards cocaine dealers!).
The whole notion of a pardon is laid out pretty explicitly in Article II, Section II of the Constitution:
[The President] shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
The power to pardon was developed in England and designed to be a deterrent against irrational sentences. In our contemporary court system, Judges have more power to fact mitigating and aggrevating evidence into a sentence but at the time the idea of a pardon was being developed, the law was more more concrete.
The Presdiential pardon then became an important too for diplomacy. In an effort to let go of a dark period of history, President Washington used the Pardon against man of the rebel-rousers of the Whiskey Rebellion. President Madison pardoned people who has disserted the American Revolution and President’s Lincoln and Carter did the same for veterans of the wars in their respective eras. President Ford’s pardon of Nixon prevented the American people from seeing a former President go to jail.
I found this bit of history to be interesting:
It appears as though a pardon can even be granted against the will of the grantee. Originally, however, a pardon could be refused. In the case of U.S. v Wilson (32 US 150) the Supreme Court stated that a pardon is like a gift that can be refused, upholding the notion in Burdick v U.S. (236 US 79). Then began a reversal of the so-called “acceptance doctrine” in Biddle v Perovich (274 US 480) when it declared that the commutation of a death sentence to a life sentence could not be refused: “A pardon in our days is not a private act of grace from an individual happening to possess power. It is a part of the Constitutional scheme. When granted it is the determination of the ultimate authority that the public welfare will be better served by inflicting less than what the judgment fixed.” President Calvin Coolidge, in an unadjudicated case, pardoned a prisoner named Craig, and when he refused the pardon, ordered him removed from the prison and “the doors locked behind him.”
The liberal blogs that I read were on fire today. They posted almost 3 times as much as comparable conservative blogs who mostly stayed quiet on the issue, posting a simple article stating the news. DailyKos has a great post about the Presidential candidates reactions and MyDD has another great article on the President’s decision. Last Thursday, the legal blogs that I read were unusually busy reporting on end-of-term news and the next day, iDay, saw a massive surge in tech blogs reporting on every aspect of the iPhone (iGlorious?). Forget Google Trends, I have my RSS reader.
I’m glad that Libby’s conviction will have ‘long-lasting’ effects on his ‘former life as a lawyer, public servant and private citizen.’ I sure hope that the lobbying position that pays $2 million a year gives him a hard time and makes him work 4 hours per week instead of 3. Don’t you just love the sweet smell of justice being served?