The King can pardon for any reason or for no reason at all.
The U.S. Constitution became the official governing document of the United States of America on June 21, 1788.
Art. II, § 2, cl. 1 of the Constitution bestows on the President of the United States the unfettered and absolute power to “grant Reprieves and Pardons … except in Cases of Impeachment.’
A King is corrupt. The nature of his ruling authority makes that so. Vesting absolute power in one man, King or President, to pardon for any reason or for no reason at all reinforces the inevitable corrupt of unfettered authority to rule.
Debate About Pardons Finds Relevancy with Trump Administration
There has been considerable debate in recent weeks about pardons. This debate was spawned after news media reports said that President Donald Trump and his defense team have discussed, and possibly investigated, the power of the president to pardon his family members, his close associates, and even himself—all of whom are under varying forms of criminal investigation.
While there is some constitutional question about whether a pardon must be requested, there is no doubt that a pardon must be accepted to be valid. This was made clear by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1915 in Burdick v. United States. More than eight decades earlier (1833) in United States v. Wilson, the Court held that a “conditional pardon” had to be accepted.
Acceptance of Pardon is Admission of Guilt
The Court in Wilson and Burdick characterized a pardon as a deed, a piece of property that must be accepted to be valid. That’s a problem for the president’s family members and associates because Burdick essentially held that a pardon carries an “imputation of guilt’ and that the acceptance of a pardon is “an admission of guilt.”
In effect, the president’s family and associates upon whom he may bestow a pardon would become pardoned criminals. The only thing a pardon does for them would be to allow them to avoid indictment, conviction, and appeal. The stigma of criminality is not removed by a pardon it simply forgives the criminality.
There’s little debate that the president has the authority to grant pardons. There remain some questions about whether this power can be extended to family members, or whether the president can pardon himself. Assuming the president can pardon his family and associates, he can do so without their ever having been charged, much less convicted, of a crime, but the moment they accept the pardon deed in hand, they own the property of criminal guilt.
Pardon Exempts Individuals from Punishment the Law Demands
In Wilson, Chief Justice John Marshall had these observations about pardon power: “A pardon is an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the laws, which exempts the individual on whom it is bestowed from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime he had committed.”
So, while the president may absolve his family members and associates of all the liabilities associated with either the commission of, or the conviction for, criminal wrongdoing, it does not cleanse the “imputation of guilt” that accompanies the acceptance of a parson.
And that bring us to the legal dilemma the president faces if he decides to sail into unchartered constitutional waters of self-pardon.
Normally, the rule of law is that there must be a grantor and a grantee: the grantor gives the pardon property to grantee through a deed of acceptance. This president, however, does not have a great deal of respect for the rule of law. He may decide he can be the grantor and grantee simultaneously. But if he does that, it is an admission of guilt that would most likely result in his impeachment and banishment from the presidency.
As Jessica A. Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, recently told the Los Angeles Times: “The language of the Constitution embraces the idea that there is one person who grants a pardon and a different person who accepts that pardon. There is also a principle of so-called natural law, which provides that no person should stand as her or his own judge.”
These would be minor constitutional technicalities for President Trump to dismiss, but in dismissing them, he will most assuredly place himself in the cross-hairs of impeachment.
The Art of the Constitutional Deal
That’s the art of the constitutional deal, not quite the same as the art of the business deal.
But the essential question will ultimately come down to this: can the president fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller in order to stop the criminal investigations into the Trump Empire and/or pardon those, including himself, he believes will face criminal liability if the investigations are allowed to continue?
This president is subject to take any course of action, lawful or unlawful.
At a campaign rally in January 2016 in Iowa, Trump said he could shoot someone on New York’s 5th Avenue and would not lose any supporters. The president believed that then and he believes that to this day.
Firing Special Counsel Creates Constitutional Crisis
What President Trump has not considered is this: if he abuses his federal executive power by firing the Special Counsel, a private citizen attorney or a responsible government attorney will immediately file an application for a preliminary injunction and/or a temporary restraining order seeking a hearing on the legality of the president’s action. That brings the judiciary into this sordid picture and thereby creates the “constitutional crisis” many legal scholars have predicted is coming.
And in the middle of all this political chaos and constitutional crisis, state investigators could go after any of his family members or associates who dare accept a presidential pardon that only applies to federal crimes. There are a host of other state crimes—money laundering, tax evasion, racketeering, bribery, conspiracy, etc.—that could be investigated by state authorities.
The long arm of the law is relentless, and especially unmerciful when it goes after a rogue King.