The Constitutional Law of Pardons
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
Although it is frequently asserted that the President’s pardoning authority is in some sense “absolute” or “unlimited,” this is an exaggeration. It is perfectly true the President has the largely unreviewable discretion to grant clemency in any case that falls within the scope of the Pardon Clause, but it does not follow that his pardoning authority is therefore without discernible, albeit broad, limits. The purpose of this essay is to sketch an overview of the Supreme Court’s Pardon Clause jurisprudence, in order to explain the scope and limits of the President’s power and the different types of relief available through the mechanism of executive clemency.
For more details about the laws that define executive clemency, read Samuel Morison’s essay, “The Constitutional Law of Pardons.”