Law experts weigh in on presidential pardoning powers during virtual panel

Law experts from UVA and across the nation weigh in on if a president can self-pardon, something that's never been done before.
Updated: Jan. 17, 2021 at 6:23 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Donald Trump’s presidency is coming to an official end in just a matter of days, but what he’ll do in those days is unknown. Some question if he may use the time to potentially pardon himself.

Law experts at the University of Virginia and across the nation say it’s unclear if it’s even possible, since it has never been done before.

“What we’ll see, is a court deciding this, once and for all, if, as I expect, President Trump were to pardon himself,” said Brian Kalt, a law professor at Michigan State University and panelist at a recent UVA Miller Center virtual discussion.

Kalt said because of the lack of legal precedent regarding self-pardoning power, it is unclear if a president could pardon themselves.

“The pardon power is broad and we have no precedent. Because of reasonable arguments on either side, courts could go either way. When people ask me if the president could pardon himself, I say he can try,” Kalt said.

UVA Law professor John Harrison said while self-pardoning could be used for a plethora of reasons, pardoning usually implies guilt of committing a crime.

“The hypothetical that people have in mind when they think about that is, the president has committed a crime and has decided ‘I don’t want to have to go to jail before this,’” Harrison said.

What is clear: The president’s pardoning powers can extend to a group of people, including those who stormed the Capitol on January 6, due to precedent set by previous presidents.

“The most recent example is President Carter pardoning Vietnam-era draft evaders. President Andrew Johnson after the Civil War, issued pardons to large groups of people,” Kalt said.

Panelists also noted that pardons cannot stop or reverse an impeachment, which, if it lead to conviction, could potentially bar the Trump from pardoning himself.

“There’s no influence in either direction. That is to say, a pardon that is effective on the criminal side has no effect on impeachment and what’s going on in the impeachment side has no effects in respect to regular prosecutions,” Harrison said.

Panelists also noted that pardons are only applicable to crimes that have already been committed, even if there has not yet been a conviction. Pardons cannot be given for future acts.

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