Would a presidential self-pardon be valid?
My answer—no, it wouldn’t be—was first registered back in the 1900s, when I wrote my student note, Pardon Me?: The Constitutional Case Against Presidential Self-Pardons. This was the beginning of my principal scholarly focus: “weird constitutional stuff that probably won’t ever happen (but if it ever does, wow!).”
As President Bush’s term draws to a close, people are starting to ask me about self-pardons again, just as they did at the end of President Clinton’s—and just as President Nixon asked his lawyers before he resigned (they said he could self-pardon, and he contemplated it). Not that partisans ever believe it, but my answer has been the same regardless of which party the president in question belongs to.
There are good arguments on both sides of the question, and Chapter 3 of my book-in-progress (Constitutional Cliffhangers: A Legal Guide for Presidents and Their Enemies) deals with them in more detail than my note, and in much more detail than this post. The chapter starts with a hypo (after which, in this post, I will sketch out the legal analysis):
The last year of his second term have been a non-stop political and media circus for President Smith. He and his top operatives have been embroiled in a complex and confusing scandal, with a seemingly endless stream of allegations of bribery, tax evasion, abuse of the power of the presidency, and, for good measure, some violence and drugs.