Sunday, March 13, 2011

North Carolina: Legislative Pardon for Dead People ... PERFECT!

The Charlotte Observer is featuring an article on what appears to be the latest political fad: considering clemency for still yet another dead person. With even casual observation, one can notice that, in most instances, the only dead people worthy of consideration for clemency these days are those who were once famous / influential or those who happened to be associated with some horrid incident that hasn't just quite yet disappeared in the recesses of the public's memory, or the memory of some enthusiastic writer or film maker. The latest dead potential pardon recipient? A former Governor of the State of North Carolina.

Per usual, this would supposedly be an act of clemency that would "right a wrong." That "wrong" took place about a century and half ago. But, according to the Observer, it is still a matter which is red-hot, burning and fresh, deep in the conscience of the citizens of North Carolina, a place which is "still coming to grips with actions of the 19th and 20th centuries against black people."

By now, 99 percent of all readers of this post have no earthly idea what is being written about - and the photograph (top left) doesn't even help them one bit. That is because, in the real world, where voters have a faint hope that their representatives in government are focusing on (and perhaps even doing something about) the real problems facing all of us every day of the week, readers of this post (in and outside of the State of North Carolina, both black and white) actually have to be reminded of (or re-"educated" as to) the troublesome "actions" described by the Observer, so that they can then begin to "come to grips" with them! Marvelous. Just marvelous.

W.W. Holden is described by the Observer as someone who "tried to prevent violence" and tried to "stop" the KKK. Shocking, is it not? Yet, even in 1800's terms - vivid imaginations aside - that was hardly enough, in itself, to encourage anything like an impeachment proceeding. No, the problem was that Governor Holden declared a state of emergency ("martial law") in two North Carolina counties and then sent out armed militia. While they were "stopping" the KKK, they also arrested Holden's political opponents and rounded up newspaper men who were critical of his administration. Holden continued to detain the newspaper men in face of a writ of habeas corpus issued by the State's Supreme Court, a decision that was eventually seconded by a federal court. In Holden's mind, the pernicious pen wielding men (and over 100 others) all deserved to be tried by military tribunals! This behavior had the effect of "polarizing" the State legislature, fellow partisans supporting Holden and voting against impeachment, opponents voting in favor of impeachment. George W. Bush would be so bloody proud.

However, it follows that any politician who does not go along with - not to mention opposes - this mind numbing, symbolic, nonsensical attempt at posthumous pardon will likely be cast in the most unpleasant public relations light. Yet, support for posthumous clemency is said to be "bipartisan." Why? Well, it is true that, previous to - and leading right up to - the Civil War, Holden used his popular newspaper to support "expanding" slavery and to clearly support "succession." But, the Observer notes, these petty offenses changed "about 180 degrees" once Holden went from being a mere second-guessing newspaper man (critical, for example, of Jefferson Davis - at least once it appeared that the South would actually be losing the War) to being a post-Civil War official in the Reconstruction South, appointed by none other than the presidential great Andrew Johnson.

The Observer notes Holden "worked to reopen schools, build a state prison, boost railroads, restore orderly government and promote equality." In his inaugural address, he said "prejudices" that grew out of "nativity, or out of rebellion" were simply "not worthy to be cherished" (all other forms of prejudice remaining good candidates?) and cried, "We are once more Americans - all."

In late 1870, Holden was impeached on eight charges of "high crimes and misdemeanors." The State Senate then convicted him on six charges and ordered the he be "removed from his post and denied the right to hold office again in the state." So, the former Governor became a second-guessing newspaper man, once again, before landing a position as post-master (appointed by President Grant).

The Observer notes that the State Constitution does not give the governor the power to pardon for an impeachment. But members of the State legislature argue that such a power "remains available for exercise by the General Assembly." So, the State legislature will consider granting the pardon itself. (Senate Joint Resolution 256). To which we proudly say:


There certainly is no better place in the world for symbolic, publicity-stunt pardons of dead persons to occur than in a state (or federal) legislature. Since such pardons have absolutely nothing to do with justice, and every thing in the world to do with publicity, they should not be featured in any executive branch. Dead persons - expecially those who never even applied for (or sought) clemency when they were alive - simply are not the appropriate targets of executive clemency, a critical feature of our system of separation of powers and checks and balances, and a feature which has already been tarnished enough and beaten up on as a result of personal favors, last-minute pardons, infrequent use, media senationalism, etc. Until the State of North Carolina can positively affirm 1) there is not a single innocent person incarcerated in North Carolina 2) not a single person in a North Carolina prison is being held a single day more than is both necessary and just 3) not a single person in North Carolina has been senselessly held at bay, waiting for pardon, to simply restore their civil rights ... not a single pardon for a dead person should be granted by anyone. But, if someone must, let it be legislators.

See the entire Observer article here. Holden's personal Memoirs can also be read here. The cynic might note that, among the troublesome "actions" that we all could be re-introduced to (so we could then start the process of remorse) is the fact that it was the North Carolina legislature which granted pardon and amnesty to members of the KKK in 1871, no doubt in order to "right a wrong." When alive, Holden himself refused to "beg" for pardon and, in the process "admit" to "guilt." He also noted that his "friends" were not inclined to ask for his pardon because they also agreed that he had done nothing "wrong." So, how shall we think of this bipartisan group of legislators today?

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