Did the Framers really wish to give Get-Out-of-Jail Free cards to insurrectionists?...
By Ernest A. Canning on 1/15/2021, 11:30am PT  

When Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe was interviewed by MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell last year, his remarks specifically related to Presidential self-pardons. His observations, however, reveal why the Department of Justice (DOJ) should also contest any effort by President Donald J. Trump to grant a pardon to anyone who could be considered a co-conspirator in carrying out an insurrection designed to allow the loser of the 2020 Presidential Election to remain in power...

If a self-pardon could be given recognition by any court, then the President would know that he could commit crimes from day one of his presidency to the end of four years --- even horrible crimes; crimes like treason, crimes like making war on his own people...That would, as George Mason said, turn us from a constitutional republic to a monarchy, or worse.

In an amicus brief [PDF] filed late last year in the Michael Flynn case, the legal advocacy group, Free Speech for People (FSFP) observed that, while the U.S. Supreme Court, in Schick v Reed (1974), described the Presidential pardon power as "plenary", or absolute, the Court added that the limitations on the pardon power, "if any, must be found in the Constitution itself." Citing a recent Georgetown Law Review article [PDF] that reached a similar conclusion, FSFP argued that the U.S. Constitution's command that a President ensure that the laws be "Faithfully Executed" broadly prevents a President from granting a pardon for a corrupt purpose.

Although U.S. District Court Judge Emmett Sullivan issued a 43-page Memorandum Opinion explaining that he had dismissed the Flynn case as moot following Flynn's acceptance of a Presidential pardon, the court neither referenced nor rejected the corrupt purpose limitation set forth by the FSFP amicus brief. Even if that ruling implicitly entailed a rejection of the FSFP argument, as applied to the Flynn case, it would not foreclose a DOJ challenge to the limits of the pardon power with respect to the unprecedented events that occurred on Jan. 6th.

This is not an abstract question. An attorney representing insurrectionist Jacob Anthony Chancey announced he'd request a Presidential pardon, Democracy Now's Amy Goodman reported. Evidence suggests that Chancey, who was filmed "shirtless, wearing buffalo horns and holding a spear", may be one of the rioters who intended "to capture and assassinate elected officials," according to Goodman. As rioters yelled "Hang Mike Pence", the charging documents allege, Chancey aka the "QAnon Shamen", left a note on the VP's desk that ominously warned that "it's only a matter of time, justice is coming", according to Anna Lucia Murillo of the Daily Beast.

No President, before this one, has ever been implicated in a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2383 - Rebellion or insurrection or 18 U.S. Code § 2384 - Seditious conspiracy. It is virtually impossible to believe that the framers of the U.S. Constitution intended the availability of the pardon power to be utilized as an instrument designed to entice others to assist in the ultimate violation of the solemn oath to see that the laws of the United States are "Faithfully Executed". The framers of the U.S. Constitution regarded the duty to "Faithful Execute" our laws as so central to our constitutional scheme of governance that Art. II, §1, Cl. 8 of the U.S. Constitution mandates that every President "shall" take the oath before entering office.

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Ernest A. Canning is a retired attorney, author, and Vietnam Veteran (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968). He previously served as a Senior Advisor to Veterans For Bernie. Canning has been a member of the California state bar since 1977. In addition to a juris doctor, he has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science. Follow him on twitter: @cann4ing