The authority to exempt a person from a punishment determined by the normal judicial process, granted to the president by Article II of the U.S. Constitution.
The pardon power is granted by Article II of the U.S. Constitution, which says that the president “shall have the power to grant reprieves and pardons against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” By 1787, the English and Anglo-American political tradition had established that the person given executive power should also be given the power to pardon. The Founders accepted the notion that the rule of law was an essential part of a republican government; this meant that every person had to be treated the same way by the public law, which had the same punishment attached to the law for all people.
President Gerald R. Ford grated former president Richard M. Nixon a full pardon in 1974.
The Founders, however, understood that there were some instances in which it might be unjust or greatly problematic to apply the law exactly as it was written. Defending the pardon power, Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist (1788), No. 74, that “the criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a face too sanguinary and cruel.”
At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the only debate regarding the pardon power was the prohibited areas of exercise. That is, several states granted some pardon power to their executive, but some exceptions existed. For example, some states permitted the pardon power except in cases of treason. At the end of the Convention, the Constitution prevented the president only from reversing an impeachment decision.
Throughout the history of the United States, presidents have exercised this power. The most famous instances include George Washington’s granting of pardons in 1795 to those involved in the Whiskey Rebellion, Abraham Lincoln’s granting of pardon in 1863 to soldiers from the southern states who pledged loyalty to the United States, and Gerald Ford’s grant in 1974 of a “full, free and absolute pardon…for all offenses which he…has committed or may have committed” as president to the recently resigned Richard M. Nixon.
The Supreme Court was not given the power to pardon, nor was it given the power to review pardon decisions at the Constitutional Convention, but it has ruled in some important cases involving the pardon power. The first of these cases was United States v. Wilson
Another important case was Ex parte Garland
The next important case was Burdick v. United States
In Ex parte Grossman
In Schick v. Reed
The Court further affirmed that a pardon is an act of grace in Connecticut Board of Pardons v. Dumschat
Thus the Court has made clear that the pardon power, which includes commuting sentences and offenses against the common law, is an act of grace that no one has a right to; however, one can refuse that gift.
Dorris, Jonathan Truman. Pardon and Amnesty Under Lincoln: The Restoration of the Confederates to Their Rights and Privileges, 1861-1868. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977. Moore, Kathleen Dean. Pardons: Justice, Mercy and the Public Interest. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Self-incrimination, immunity against