President Bush Revokes Pardon of Isaac Toussie
posted by Brian Kalt
It seems to me that this is not constitutional. Once issued, a pardon is a pardon. That’s that. The president has the power to lift criminal consequences from someone, but not to unilaterally impose them, which a pardon revocation does.
I can’t find all of the details here. Perhaps President Bush announced that he would be issuing the pardons, but did not actually issue them in the requisite official form. But it sure seems like he signed off on them. One other possibility is that the pardon was made conditional on some sort of follow-up by Toussie, which he had not performed. But I see no reporting on that either. It just looks like the president issued a pardon and then un-issued it.
President Bush actually referred the matter to the Office of the Pardon Attorney for further consideration, so it is possible that Toussie will get his pardon back. One can imagine that Toussie and his lawyers might not want to challenge the president’s revocation if they still hope to get something from him. Since Toussie is probably the only one with standing to argue the constitutional point, though, the only way to answer the revocability question is for Toussie to challenge the president’s action in court. From the CNN story, though, it doesn’t sound like that is going to happen.
Strange days indeed.
UPDATE: According to the official White House statement, President Bush did not actually pardon Toussie, but only delivered a Master Warrant of Clemency to the Office of the Pardon Attorney. This just instructs the pardon attorney to execute and deliver the pardons. So it wasn’t final.
Marbury v. Madison famously held that a presidential appointment need not be delivered before it is effective, but as this helpful blogger notes, pardons are different from appointments in the Supreme Court’s eyes:
There is, however, some weighty precedent for the proposition that at least a garden-variety pardon is not complete until delivered. This line of argument originates in this statement of Chief Justice Marshall’s in U.S. v. Wilson, 32 U.S. 150, 161 (1833). Marshall, famously, had earlier decided in Marbury v. Madison that an official’s commission was valid without delivery, and hence must be delivered even if the President did not want the appointment to go through. But pardons, he argued, were different:
A pardon is a deed, to the validity of which, delivery is essential, and delivery is not complete, without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered; and if it be rejected, we have discovered no power in a court to force it on him. It may be supposed, that no being condemned to death would reject a pardon; but the rule must be the same in capital cases and in misdemeanors. A pardon may be conditional; and the condition may be more objectionable than the punishment inflicted by the judgment. The pardon may possibly apply to a different person, or a different crime. It may be absolute or conditional. It may be controverted by the prosecutor, and must be expounded by the court. These circumstances combine to show, that this, like any other deed, ought to be brought ‘judicially before the court, by plea, motion or otherwise.’
Similarly, the District Court decision in In re De Puy, 7 F. Cas. 506, 510-11 (S.D.N.Y. 1869) (No. 3814), described in Harold J. Krent, Conditioning the President’s Conditional Pardon Power, 89 Cal. L. Rev. 1665, 1704 (2001) as involving:
President Andrew Johnson’s offer of a pardon to Jacob DePuy, who had been convicted and incarcerated for violating the revenue laws. President Johnson predicated the pardon on DePuy’s agreement to pay a fine. When President Grant assumed the reins of power, he revoked the pardon, and the Court upheld the revocation because the paperwork had yet to reach DePuy even though the warden had the papers in his possession at the time President Grant revoked the offer. . . . Indeed, President George W. Bush’s administration reportedly studied the feasibility of revoking the Marc Rich pardon, and it was not clear whether the Clinton administration had completed all of the paperwork at the time Bush took office.
This takes a good deal of the wind out of the sails of the arguments that Toussie might make. But not all of the wind. Wilson dealt with someone who didn’t want to accept the partial pardon the president had given him; the Court let him refuse it (a conclusion that I have questioned elsewhere in light of subsequent precedent, but let’s accept it arguendo). DePuy dealt with someone who had a conditional pardon, which condition he had not yet fulfilled when the pardon was revoked.
In Toussie’s case, he wanted the pardon. He had applied for it and (I think) gotten everything he had asked for. Wilson is thus inapt. There do not appear to have been any conditions placed on Toussie’s pardon; DePuy therefore does not control. Toussie’s pardon thus seems to be final in a way that Wilson’s and DePuy’s pardons were not.
However, Marbury adds another wrinkle. A commission, Chief Justice Marshall wrote, does not to be delivered to be valid, but it does have to be sealed (in that case by the secretary of state). Here, if the president sent a sealed document to the pardon attorney, ordering him to deliver it to Toussie; or if the president sent an unsealed document to the pardon attorney, who then sealed it but didn’t deliver it, Toussie still has a good argument that the pardon is final. If the document was not yet sealed when it was revoked, his case is much weaker.