Monday, October 27, 2008

Context: Convicted Senators Who Were Pardoned ... Zero

While the New York Times is flippant enough to toss out the possibility that Alaska Senator Ted Stevens - who was convicted just today - could be a possibility for a presidential pardon (see post here), the Miami Herald is, evidently, stuck in the Antique Roadshow mode of newspaper reporting. It observes:

The guilty verdict will complicate not only his re-election bid but also the remainder of his current term in the Senate. His colleagues have the option - never exercised - of voting to expel him before his term ends in January. Four U.S. senators have been convicted of crimes, historians note, but not one has received a presidential pardon.

The other four Senators being: John Hipple Mitchell (R-Oregon, 1905), Joseph R. Burton (R-Kansas, 1906), Truman H. Newberry (R- Michigan, 1920) and Harrison Williams (D - New Jersey, 1982). When Newberry and Williams were convicted, the presidents (Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan) were from the opposite party. The Mitchell and Burton convictions came during a Republican administration. But the Republican was Theodore Roosevelt, who may not have been too saddened to see them convicted! Indeed, Roosevelt described Burton as a "higher up" who "swindled on a large scale." See Herald story here.

In sum, PardonPower is not certain why Senatorial status would be (or is) a particularly relevant factor. Consider these pardons: 1871 - Rep. C.C. Bowen (R), pardoned by Ulysses S. Grant (R); 1928 - Rep. John W. Langley (R), pardoned by Calvin Coolidge (R); 1933 - Rep. Francis H. Shoemaker (L), pardoned by Franklin Roosevelt(D); 1947, Rep. James M. Curley (D), commutation of sentence granted by Harry Truman (D); 1950 - Rep. James M. Curley (D), pardoned by Harry Truman (D); 1952 - Rep. Andrew J. May (D), pardoned by Harry Truman (D), 1952 - Rep. James P. Thomas (R), pardoned by Harry Truman (D); 1965 - Rep. Frank Boykin (D), pardoned by Lyndon Johnson (D); 2000 - Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D), pardoned by Bill Clinton (D); 2001 - Rep. Mel Reynolds (D), commutation of sentence from Bill Clinton (D).

* Note: The Editor is aware of no authoritative list of pardons granted to members of Congress (former or current). The above information was gleaned from a quick scan through original data on presidential pardons from 1789 to 2008.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps you can answer a question: is it even possible for Bush to pardon Stevens? What are the limits on the President's power? As I understand it, Stevens will not actually be sentenced until after Bush leaves office. If he hasn't been sentenced, how can he be pardoned? Just curious.

P.S. Ruckman, Jr. said...

EditorJust got off of the phone with the Washington Post re this question. According to the Supreme Court, pardons can be granted at any time, before during or after sentencing. This is fairly well known in the media. On the other hand, it would an extraordinary act for Bush to do such a thing, and there are really no personal, social or political reasons to expect it. The media probably understand this as well. But, unable to resist the topic, some are focusing on the possibility of a commutation of sentence along the lines of Scooter Libby. The problem, of course, is that Stevens has not been sentenced and may not be until after Bush is gone. While the idea of a preemptive pardon is easy (however noxious) the idea of a preemptive commutation of sentence is bewildering. How do you reduce a sentence before the sentence exists? If this happened, for once, PardonPower would stand in the choir and sing "unprecedented."

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