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Prerogative to Pardon

November 9, 2010

In chapter XIV: Of Prerogative, Locke discusses the idea of executive prerogative within government. He defines prerogative as “the power to act according to discretion, for the public good, without the prescription of the law, and sometimes even against it”. (Locke, Second Treatise of Government, 330). This basically means that within the framework of government, a sovereign or a leader has the right to take action on an issue or law as long as they stay within the law. In other words, Locke defines prerogative as “nothing but the power of doing public good without a rule.” (Locke, Second Treatise of Government, 332).
Locke’s ideas about prerogative can relate to today’s society. In one of our recent discussion sections, our class debated whether or not the president’s power to issue pardons and commutations of sentences is within the framework of government. Part of being elected President of the United States, is that the president has the prerogative, or right, to issue pardons if believes there is a legitimate reason for one. As long as a president’s pardon is in the best interest of the country, and no laws are being broken; then in fact it is his prerogative to grant a pardon.
The issue that arises with the granting of pardons, is that many of them are granted on the last day of a president’s term. This occurs presumably because a president does not want criticism that arises from his pardons to affect his presidency. One president in particular, William Jefferson Clinton, granted 140 pardons and issued 36 commutations on his final day in office. In class we read an op-ed piece in which Clinton discusses the reasons for his pardons. Below you can find the link for the article.
Would Locke believe that it is a President’s prerogative to issue a large amount of pardons on his final day in office? One of the greatest facets of our legal system is that we have a system of checks and balances that monitors all aspects of government. If a president is out of control, we as the people have the right and civic duty to impeach him. Since a president cannot be impeached on his last day of office, he essentially has the power to issue a pardon to anyone he wants for any reason. As citizens of this country should we institute some type of check on a president’s ability to grant pardons at the end of his term? Maybe there should be a law put in place that would only allow a president to issue a pardon within the first two years of his term. The overbearing theme with this idea is that, as long the decision that is being made is in the best interest of the general public, a leader has the prerogative to take action.

Locke, John. “Second Treatise of Government.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. By David Wootton. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2008. Print.

  1. lrib12 permalink
    November 9, 2010 10:34 PM

    I am really intrigued by presidential pardons as well. This is a great example of modern day prerogative, and really the only one that makes the news. There is so much tension and difficulty surrounding the question of whether to limit presidential pardons. We discussed this in lecture and I feel that it is an all or nothing kind of thing. Let there be pardons or flat out eliminate them

  2. Sara Mitchell permalink
    November 9, 2010 11:07 PM

    I just learned something new by reading this blog post. I have no idea that many presidents issue so many pardons on their last day in office since they cannot be impeached. I think you bring up a very valid point about prerogative. I believe that Locke would be against the issuing of a large amount of pardons on the president’s last day in office, and that it is not the president’s prerogative to do so on the last day. I think Locke would say it is the president’s prerogative to issue some of the pardons if they were for the public good and didn’t break any laws, but throughout the president’s term, not all on the last day. Doing so all on the last day is implying that the president does not want to take responsibility for his actions and wants to put it all on the next president, which is unacceptable.

    • Sara Mitchell permalink
      November 9, 2010 11:08 PM

      *the first have is supposed to be had

  3. adamhollenberg permalink
    November 9, 2010 11:28 PM

    In a representative democracy, especially one as tried and true as the USA, pardons are not a bad thing. As voters, we have put our complete trust in the hands of our elected leader. Thus, as good citizens, there is no reason that we should not trust the leader that we elected. If my elected leader thinks that a pardon is a good thing, than a pardon is a good thing. We must trust in our system and in our elected leaders. Pardons are a very interesting concept, along with executive prerogative in general. It is important that we examine them, and their past, present and future uses as responsible and educated citizens.

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