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Keep the power to pardon

Congress should avoid the temptation to launch constitutional amendments that do away with the president's power to grant pardons. President Clinton may have abused this power on his way out of office, but that is no reason to do away with a time-honored principle that acts as another check and balance within the delicate framework of American government.

The founders batted this concept about when writing the Constitution. Some, like Alexander Hamilton, argued that in times of rebellion or insurrection it may be necessary for the chief executive to grant a pardon as a tool for pacifying the insurgents and restoring peace and order. That was a wise argument. This very idea came into play somewhat when President Andrew Johnson pardoned confederate rebels three years after the Civil War ended in an effort to begin the healing necessary for the South to once again be assimilated into the union. One could argue that Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for similar reasons — to spare the nation further trauma and to allow people to move beyond the Watergate scandal.

More importantly, however, the pardon power allows the president to correct an injustice when Congress is unwilling and when the judicial branch is unable to do so.

After some debate, the founders finally decided to allow the president the absolute power to pardon in all cases against the United States except those involving impeachment. Since then, several attempts have been made to curtail that power. Former vice president Walter Mondale, when he was a Senator from Minnesota, proposed an amendment that would have given Congress the right to overturn a pardon within 180 days. Two more attempts were made in the 1990s, including one that would have limited pardons only to people who already have been convicted of a crime.

Each of these was rejected, and rightly so.

In the days since Bill Clinton left office, facts have emerged that strongly suggest he abused the pardon power, granting clemency to people who had contributed money to his political party or to his presidential library, or to people who retained his brother-in-law as counsel.

It would be impossible to grant an absolute power that would be immune to abuse. In this case, however, the reasons for keeping this power far outweigh the risk that any future president will once again use his discretion in such a way.