The Pardon Reform Amendment: A Proposed 29th Amendment to the Constitution

Text of Proposed Amendment

Section 1. The President shall have no power to grant a self-reprieve or self-pardon for an offense against the United States.

Section 2. The President can never, under any circumstances, grant a pardon or reprieve in exchange for a bribe or similar quid pro quo. The granting of a pardon or reprieve in exchange for a bribe or similar quid pro quo shall be an impeachable offense. Any pardon or reprieve granted in exchange for a bribe or similar quid pro quo shall be deemed to be null and void.

Section 3. The Congress of the United States shall have the power to override any pardon or reprieve granted by the President if, within three months of such pardon or reprieve being granted, two thirds of both Houses of Congress vote to nullify the pardon or reprieve.

Section 4. No reprieve or pardon granted by the President shall be effective until it is transmitted, in writing, to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. The written grant of a Presidential pardon or reprieve shall be publicly available information, not information protected by Executive privilege, laws preventing the disclosure of national security information, or any mechanism invoked by the President to prevent all American citizens from knowing the full details of Presidential pardons and reprieves.

Section 5. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Rationale for Proposed Amendment

Section 1: During former President Trump’s lame duck period, there was much speculation in the media about whether Trump would attempt to pardon himself and, if so, whether such a self-pardon is allowed by the Constitution itself. Sections 1 and 5 of this proposed Amendment would ensure that never again would there any question about whether the Constitution permitted a President to issue a self-pardon.

Update: After originally publishing this blog post, I have learned that Rep. Al Green proposed a constitutional amendment in 2017 which was very similar to Section 1 of this proposed Amendment.

During multiple administrations, including the Trump and Clinton administrations, there has been wide speculation that former Presidents have granted pardons or reprieves in exchange for financial contributions to political campaigns. Sections 2 and 5 of this proposed Amendment not only makes such pardons and reprieves impermissible, but makes the act of granting a pardon or reprieve, in exchange for a bribe or quid pro quo, an impeachable offense.

Likewise, during multiple administrations, various Presidents have granted pardons and reprieves which have struck many people as outrageous. Sections 3 and 5 of this proposed Amendment create a sort of “reverse veto” — the ability of Congress to override pardons and reprieves within three months of having been granted, if two thirds of both Houses of Congress vote in favor of doing so.

Finally, during the lame duck period of the Trump administration, there was widespread speculation about whether former President Trump might issue “secret pardons,” pardons the existence of which might never become public knowledge unless and until the recipients of the pardons are charged with a crime. Sections 4 and 5 of this proposed Amendment increase transparency by requiring all details of a Presidential pardon or reprieve to become public knowledge.

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