Since I am the one who studies and protects in the field of mercy, I will get a lot of calls when this happens. Usually you ask him if he can do it? My answer is he just did. Clementarism, which is structured by the constitution, has no restraint or balance, except in politics. And in another political cycle, we are totally incapable of using this lone test of the power of kings. Our focus on mercy should be in the middle of the election campaign, not after it’s over.
The Constitution gives the president extraordinary discretion in matters of pardon – a remarkable and unique power that is not in question. Historically, it has been used at best by the presidents to smooth out the toughest lines of criminal law. For example, President Gerald Ford used it to pardon thousands of Vietnamese refugees and deserters under certain conditions after the war, and President John F. Kennedy used it to reduce the sentences of some people sentenced under the draconian marijuana law. The power of mercy must be used as part of a wider project for the reform of criminal law, which includes those who have been forgotten.
Maybe I missed it (I didn’t miss it), but the presidential debate of the past decades wasn’t about forgiveness. In the recent municipal elections, no undecided voter pressured a candidate to express his or her opinion on the use of the power of grace. In interviews with President Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden, reporters rarely seem to ask questions about the issue. Instead, we just wait and let everyone’s heads explode when the president abuses this instrument of mercy. Even in the last debate, none of the candidates spoke about how they would use pardons in a promising way, not even in a lively debate on criminal law issues.
Trump and Biden ask very different questions about leniency (including the right to reduction of sentence by commutation or pardon by a convicted person). Trump already showed his cards: Even taking into account the replacements awarded last Wednesday to five deserving candidates, his use of the mercy authority has particularly favoured friends and celebrities of Fox News. Even her replacement on different levels and the forgiveness of Alice Marie Johnson was only possible thanks to the intervention of another reality TV star, Kim Kardashian West. Biden, meanwhile, a blank sheet of paper. Some fear that he is not doing enough, while this exaggerated conclusion is criticised by experts and a wide range of citizens on both the left and right.
While investigators constantly (and appropriately) ask him trumpet questions about whether he will relinquish power if he loses, it is rare for anyone to ask him who he can pardon after the elections, despite the long and positive track record he has built up.
Joe Biden wasn’t under pressure either and he didn’t seem to think much about it: In response to a general question about criminal law raised by NBC Lester Holt at city hall, Biden said the Obama administration has pardoned 18,000 people. He left with about 16,000 (in the last debate he showed better results and mentioned the number of more than 1,000). Perhaps Biden overestimated the effectiveness of Obama’s pardon initiative, which came too little and too late. This project only started after years of inactivity with good intentions, as Obama reduced the sentence only once during the first five years of his existence. It also didn’t achieve so much good business that when the First Trump Step Act allowed for the early release of 2,387 offenders, that was far more than Obama’s pardon program, even though the two projects targeted the same group. It’s obvious Obama left too many people behind.
By not focusing on grace, where it is most important, candidates can also deny responsibility for a particular reform plan. And it is important to reform every part of the system that has allowed systemic racism and unnecessarily long prison sentences. Currently, the pardon process consists of seven stages, it is controlled by the Ministry of Justice (for people in conflict, because it focuses on excessively long sentences) and simply does not work. There was a lot of support for setting up a Pardon Watch Committee to advise the president, and the idea was even included in Biden Sanders’ joint plan and in the democratic platform. But Biden didn’t mention it (at least not in the forums I visited) – especially since nobody asked.
Even if further reforms of the criminal justice system were to take place, the pardon system would have to be reformed. On the one hand, other reforms do not do what a form of forgiveness, grace, can do: Freeing people from punishment after they have served their sentence. On the other hand, reforms that refer cases back to the courts too often exacerbate inequalities. Finally, judges who hand out harsh sentences are less likely to take a break, which may put those who come to them at a disadvantage. Softness can be a way to reach those who have been victimized twice.
Come on, guys! This last week before the election is the last time we can talk meaningfully about grace. Journalists should speak directly to the candidates and others should put pressure on them. And next time, we should make this discussion part of the primaries as we reconsider our decisions and talk to candidates in U.S. coffee shops, churches and community centers. After all, it’s not boring: Grace is nothing more than the most powerful man in the world showing mercy to the least powerful man in the world, and the only one in our constitutional system who lives a value accepted almost everywhere by Americans. We believe in mercy, but we don’t have much time to discuss it when it’s really important.