It is time to end the presidential pardon and reform the justice system instead

Emily DiSalvo, Arts and Life Editor

President Donald Trump is expected to pardon nearly 100 individuals during his final days in office according to CNN, adding to the 70 he has already pardoned.

Many of these pardons are political allies and those who committed crimes while working for his campaign. The pardon power is a way for corrupt politicians to save their cronies from jail time, flaunt the pardoning of minorities for political gain and ultimately avoid reforming the broken justice system that allows this process to occur in the first place.

The pardon power of the president is based on Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution.

“The President … shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of impeachment,” the U.S. Constitution states.

While Trump’s pardoning of political allies who took illegal and corrupt action to get him elected seems wrong, it is quite legal and justified given this line in our country’s most precious founding document. So is pardoning the citizens of the pro-slave Confederate states, as President Andrew Johnson did in 1865.

Paul Manafort, convicted of conspiracy against the United States and witness tampering, was pardoned by President Trump. (Photo from Wikipedia)

But that doesn’t mean it is right and should remain unchanged in an era when it is blatantly abused and also a total backstab for the people who are left to serve their sentences — many in jail for crimes much less insidious than, “Conspiracy against the United States; conspiracy to obstruct justice (witness tampering).” This is the actual charge with which Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was supposed to serve 47 months in prison for.

The Founding Fathers did not completely neglect to consider the possibility of a president like Trump. In 1788, George Mason argued that the president may not always be someone of sound character, able to select worthy people of pardoning. Mason said that the president “ought not to have the power of pardoning, because he may frequently pardon crimes which were advised by himself.”

Mason’s concerns were overridden on the grounds that if the president was making poor, potentially illegal decisions about pardons, he could be impeached. Trump has been impeached twice now, neither time for pardons and neither time successfully removed him from office by the time his term expired. This check clearly did not balance.

However, I argue that the pardon power was a mistake even before Trump came along and abused it. The point of the pardon power is to grant forgiveness to people who have been wrongly charged, have shown remorse from a deed or to simply give a favor to an ally or friend. 

First of all, if we have to grant pardons to people who have been wrongly charged, that means that the justice system is broken. If we have to tokenize the pardoning of Weldon Hal Angelos, a Greek immigrant and singer who was charged with the possession and intent to sell marijuana, as a way to show that Trump wants to reform the justice system, then maybe instead of picking out individual people incarcerated, we should fix the system that incarcerated them in the first place.

Why do presidents have to make a show of pardoning people serving time for small drug crimes? Why are the people who committed small drug crimes even serving time?

Secondly, if the president is the one granting the pardon, and like most presidents is more wealthy than the average American, the friends and cronies he or she decides to pardon will also most likely be wealthy and socially connected elites. The president, even the one with the very best intentions, has no way of being aware of every person deserving of a pardon. But he is aware of his friend who just got charged for a white collar crime involving tax evasion.

Therefore, the man who has three kids at home but just got sentenced to three years for trying to sell drugs so he could bring food home to his kids but has no connections to political elites will not be pardoned. In fact, he probably can’t even afford a good lawyer to defend him.

The pardon power has been broken since its inception, but Trump held it over his head and shattered it. It is time to pass a constitutional amendment removing the pardon power from Article 2.