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End-Of-Term Clemency Is A Centuries-Old, Often Vilified Tradition

Publication Date: 
January 10, 2011
Los Angeles Times
Carol J. Williams

Professor Robert Weisberg is quoted by the LA Times for his opinion on clemency grants at the end of a governor's or president's term. The quote can be found here:

Is a governor's power to pardon criminals a valuable tool to correct unjust sentences or does it undermine the rule of law by allowing politicians to forgive offenses as personal favors?

Legal experts contend that this vestige of a sovereign's absolute power does both.

Clemency grants at the end of a governor's or president's term have become a routine departure ritual, gaining attention only when they offend the public's idea of fairness, as did President Clinton's 2001 intervention to forgive fugitive financier Marc Rich and President Ford's pardon of his predecessor, Richard M. Nixon.


"I don't think it's a serious problem. It's almost as if we have this annual ritual on both the state and federal level where legitimate questions are raised about commutations and everyone goes through a lot of hand-wringing about how we got this bizarre principle," Robert Weisberg, a Stanford University constitutional law professor, said of the clemency power controversies that punctuate political administrations.

Although the dubious grants garner most of the attention, the power has to be broad to allow its use for "morally admirable purposes," Weisberg said, noting Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste's 1991 commutation of eight death row inmates' sentences, most of them women who had been victims of spousal abuse and racial discrimination.