Our founding history of commutation

0

We all – we Americans – want money, connections and good lawyers. We don’t always like it when the other guy has those things, though, especially when the “other guy” is I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

Libby has money; his court-ordered $250,000 fine for obstructing justice will barely scratch him. He has connections in the White House and elsewhere. He has great lawyers.

And, now, he has a presidential commutation of prison time for obstructing justice.

The United States has a strong history of commutation and pardons, following English common law. Chief executives often sign a flurry of pardons and commutations on their way out, usually on their final day in office. President Bush, at least, acted while Libby’s sentence was fresh, and is prepared to take the criticism.

So, did Libby get a free pass, or did he just benefit from American tradition? A constitutional guarantee, actually?

We side with the Constitution and a president’s prerogative.

No one has to like it, but we must accept it.

Libby lied about what he knew regarding the leaked identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame (as did others). He was wrong and history will forever know his guilt.

But, he has connections, and there is a much-used tool in the constitutional toolbox allowing executives to pardon and commute sentences. Bush used that tool.

Other presidents have done the same for criminals, we might argue, who committed worse crimes.

Take President Eisenhower, for example. Another Republican.

In 1960, Eisenhower commuted the sentence of former Army Master Sgt. Maurice L. Schick from death to life imprisonment. Schick murdered an 8-year-old Japanese girl in 1954, a violent and politically charged crime that rattled the nation.

Schick appealed the commutation to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing it was unfair to imprison him for life without the possibility of parole. Libby, at least, isn’t likely to complain about the presidential largesse.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said President Bush’s action demonstrates he “condones criminal conduct.”

Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Plame’s husband, told NBC the president’s action “utterly subverted the rule of law and the system of justice that has undergirded this country of ours for the past 220 years.”

Really? Didn’t President Clinton do the same when he tired his hand signing pardons during his final days in office?

Since the U.S. Constitution is the underlying document that established our justice system, how could the use of the document’s pardoning and commutation power be subversive?

It can’t.

And it will never be, unless we as a nation amend the Constitution to eliminate this executive power.

To suggest President Bush used his power to help a friend is fair, but his office allows it. The Constitution doesn’t outline why commutations and pardons can be made; they are made by presidents for whatever reasons they deem.

Did Libby get an early Independence Day gift?

You bet.

He can thank the U.S. Constitution and our Founding Fathers.

Advertisement
SHARE