Haley Barbour's pardons put Southern redemption on trial
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour defended his mass pardon of over 200 current and former convicts, quoting the Christian principle of redemption enshrined in Southern law and tradition.
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Nationally, the idea of executive pardons, floated as a necessary check on the courts by Alexander Hamilton, is also influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition.Skip to next paragraph
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“In the federal system, wardens would recommend Christmas pardons to the president,” P.S. Ruckman, Jr., a political science professor at Rock Valley College in Illinois, told ABC News. “They don’t do that anymore,” he added. But “one out of every two pardons granted by the president in the last 39 years has been granted in the month of December.”
“Barbour's exercise of pardoning power defies convention at least,” he says. At the same time, he adds, “No one knows the background of all these cases, so it's very difficult to draw any kind of reasonable inferences from the governor's actions.”
Critics say Barbour took the idea too far, with Mr. Hood suggesting that the patriarchal power of the Mississippi governorship turned Barbour into “Boss Hogg,” the stereotypical bumbling country sheriff from the 1980s TV series “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Others, including University of Notre Dame law professor Jimmy Gurule, said Barbour used the pardon process “so arbitrarily that it renders the process not only abusive, but lawless,” by invalidating hundreds of jury decisions, in at least four cases for convicted murderers who walked free with their criminal records expunged.
A review of 181 of the pardons by Hood, the attorney general, pointed out that 140 of them had no public notice prior to the pardon, as required by the state constitution, and another 27 had insufficient notices under the law.
On Wednesday, Circuit Court Judge Tomie Green stayed 26 of the pardons, including those of five former Governor's Mansion trustees who were released last Sunday. As of Saturday, four of those five had checked in with authorities as requested by the judge. But it's far from clear whether those men can be sent back to prison, since the state can't technically write up arrest warrants for citizens bearing pardon papers.
“There are some tough legal issues we are trying to address,” Hood told CNN on Thursday. “This is such a unique problem that no law has ever had to address yet. We’re having to make new law here.”
While presidents used to hand pardons out more liberally, the practice has been curtailed because of political backlash. Political scientists widely believe that Barbour felt free to pardon such a large number of people because he had made his mind up that he would not seek public office again.