Thursday, March 8, 2007

Pardon Me

Even President Bush senses that it would be a good idea to stay out of the Lewis Libby case, at least until the appeal is over. Libby's supporters are agitating for a pardon.

You heard it here first: Libby's lawyers will drag out the appeal as long as possible (with Libby remaining free pending appeal) and then Bush will pardon Libby on November 5, 2008. That's the day after the 2008 election. That way, Bush can reward his loyal aide while not suffering political consequences.

Like the Marc Rich pardon (granted by President Clinton on his last day in office), the Libby pardon will reveal a structural defect in the Constitution. The only check on the pardon power is the political anger of voters at ill-conceived pardons, but they can't effectively punish anyone for pardons issued during the lame-duck period after a presidential election. Amusingly, Libby used to work for Marc Rich.

The solution is that a President's pardon power should expire 60 days before the presidential election. That would give the President plenty of time to issue pardons, and then the voters would have sufficient time to learn about them at take them into account when voting. Second-term Presidents would be somewhat less subject to check, but would probably still want to protect their party from voter wrath.

Unfortunately, this change would require a constitutional amendment, and it's probably not important enough to worry about. But maybe, with a couple more high-profile bad-news pardons, it could happen.

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