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Sunday, January 12, 2003

Gubernatorial Nullification-I couldn't quite get my mind around the Ryan mass commutations until this afternoon as I ran some errands while Eileen napped. Illinigirl, whose tax dollars will go to support these 167 "gentlemen", chimed in just prior to the commutations were officially announced.
While this may be constitutional, it just doesn't seem fair in my estimation. The laws and courts are there for a reason. The governor is not there to deem all their decisions worthless and make his own sentences. Can one of the lawyer types (Bobby, Josh?) take a stab at explaining why George Ryan is able to do this?
She nails this on the head. However, most states, as far as I know, don't limit the rationales that they use to give pardons. Typically pardons are used to (1) correct for a miscarriage of justice in a particular case or (2) let a model prisoner out sooner than a harsh sentence should allow for or (3) to give a deserving person (often in the executive's party) that's served his time and become a productive citizen to get a past conviction wiped off the record so they can vote, own guns or partake in other facets of life barred to felons. Ryan's deciding that the death penalty in an of itself is wrong and refuses to enforce it. He's done that with the moratorium for the last three years and made that moratorium a lifetime one for those 167 fellows. I coined the phrase gubernatorial nullification (ruining a whacked-out militia-type's Googlewhack); a spin-off of the idea of jury nullification, where a jury will declare the defendant not guilty even if he's clearly guilty to either question the law or legal system (like black juries refusing to send drug offenders to prison) or to endorse the act of the accused (like the Jim Crow South juries not convicting Klan crimes). Here, Ryan isn't questioning the guilt or innocence of a particular inmate, but saying the system's too fubared to execute anyone with a clear conscience. Usually, governors (or presidents) only get into trouble with pardons if they start accepting bribes to give them. I remember a scandal in Tennessee in the 70s where a Gov. Blanton was caught charging for pardons; a bad political joke of the era-"the Blanton Cocktail-drink one and you keep saying 'uurp, pardon me. BLAAT, pardon me." A similar scandal a century ago (IIRC) caused Texas to take pardons out of the governor's desk and onto the Parole Board's; thus Dubya could only ask the Parole Board to review a death sentence when he was governor. However, most states couldn't have anticipated a governor giving blanket pardons for a class of criminals. What would have stopped Gary Johnson, the pro-drug-legalization ex-governor of New Mexico, from giving blanket pardons to all drug cases in the state just before he handed the reins over to Bill Richardson? Unless there are special clauses in New Mexico state law, not much. This might be a special case that isn't worth writing a slew of parole-reform laws in state capitals, but history does have a tendency to repeat itself. I remember when Yeltsin kicked out his legislature back in the 90s, I and others referred to it as "pulling a Fujimori" for the Peruvian president had staged a comparable autocoup a short time before. What governor, or president, might be tempted to "pull a George Ryan" in the future?

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