Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mississippi: Pardons are Governor's Responsibility

USA Today and the Associated Press report the State's Supreme Court has upheld the pardons issued by former Gov. Haley Barbour during his final days in office by a 6-3 vote and a 77-page opinion (full text here) or here.

The Court argued gubernatorial pardons "may not be set aside or voided by the judicial branch." But Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood had challenged the pardons, arguing that some did not meet the requirements of the Mississippi State Constitution, which requires publication of 30 day notices in local papers. Hood did not ask the judiciary to void the governor's pardon so much as he asked the the judiciary to interpret and apply the state Constitution! But the Court cryptically ruled:
"we are compelled to hold that — in each of the cases before us — it fell to the governor alone to decide whether the Constitution's publication requirement was met."
Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. was among the three justices who dissented, and seemed to have a much better view of what the case was about - and not about. As he saw it:
"Just as the governor does not have the power to pardon an individual before conviction, he does not have the power to pardon a convicted felon before the publication requirement is met,"
Justice Bubba Pierce wrote, in dissent:
"I find the constitutional notice and publication requirements of Section 124 to be mandatory. They are meant to ensure transparency in the governor's exercise of the pardoning power. A pardon issued by the governor when the notice and publications requirements have not been met, is issued without constitutional authority.

"By its decision today, this Court has not only abdicated the judiciary department's contemplated role under our theory of government, it has effectively amended Section 124 of the 1890 Mississippi Constitution back to Article 5, Section 10 of the 1868 Mississippi Constitution. By the written word, the majority has turned the constitutional clock back to 1868."
See story here. and here.

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