The ability of an outgoing president to use his constitutional pardon powers has been controversial in some cases. Here is a quick look at those powers and some famous people who benefitted from them.
This week, as his second term in office nears its end, President Barack Obama commuted a jail sentence for Wikileaks figure Chelsea Manning and issued a pardon to former general James Cartwright - triggering debates that usually accompany high-profile pardon moves.
The President has pardon or clemency power under Article II, Section 2, Clause 1, of the Constitution, under the Pardon Clause. The clause says the President “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” The Office of the Pardon Attorney, which is part of the Justice Department, has handled such matters for the President since 1893, and it has a detailed description of the pardon and clemency process on its website.
Although the terms clemency and pardon seemed to be interchangeable, in general terms executive federal clemency is granted after someone had allegedly committed a crime. In most cases, that person is convicted of a crime, and then granted a form of clemency. A pardon allows a convicted person to reclaim lost civil rights after a conviction.
Here is a list of some familiar names of people who benefitted from this power.
In January 2001, President Bill Clinton pardoned his own brother, Roger, who had served a one-year jail sentence on a drug conviction. He also pardoned businessman Marc Rich, Whitewater participant Susan McDougal and former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros.
In late 1992, President George H. W. Bush pardoned six men implicated in the Iran-contra affair, including former Defense Secretary Weinberger.
In January 1989, President Ronald Reagan pardoned New York Yankees owner Steinbrenner for charges related to illegal campaign contributions made to Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign.
In the case of President Nixon, he was granted a pardon by Gerald Ford in September 1974 for any crimes he might have committed during the Watergate scandal, even though Nixon wasn’t charged with or convicted of federal crimes. (This is known as a pre-emptive pardon.)
On October 1978, President Jimmy Carter officially restored the full citizenship rights of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis, signing an act from Congress that ended a century-long dispute.
President Carter also commuted the sentence of G. Gordon Liddy related to the 1972 Watergate burglary.
The Teamsters leader was serving a 15-year prison sentence when President Richard Nixon pardoned him in December 1971.
In December 1921, President Warren Harding pardoned the Socialist Party leader who had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for an antiwar speech that violated the Espionage Act.
Dr. Samuel Mudd
Outgoing President Andrew Johnson spared Mudd from a life sentence in 1869 for treating Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth for an injured leg.
President James Buchanan pardoned Young for his role in the Utah War between Mormon fighters and federal troops in the 1850s.
Recent Historical Stories on Constitution Daily