Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Benevolence Is the Greater Part of Justice

Democracy, it seems, is the rule of the merciless. Thomas Kostigen argues that we should do away with Presidential pardon:

Why, oh why, should one individual be able to gain favor (and freedom) over another in a democratic system such as ours? No. The pardon system should be done away with, and along with it the ethical controversy that it portends.

Yes, why, oh why, don't we punish individuals as if they were all exactly the same! Oh, that's right, because sometimes, as James Wilson puts it, people "may be unfortunate in a higher degree, than that, in which they are criminal." And because sometimes, due to particular circumstances of the case, we can make a reasonable judgment that we would all benefit more if the person involved were given a second chance. And sometimes, perhaps just a little, because we need some clear symbol that laws are not perfect, that courts are not flawless, that mistakes are not unforgivable, and that compassion is essential to the health of justice.

P.S. Ruckman, Jr. notes that Kostigen's argument is based only on a few cases that make it into the papers:

And that is too bad. Kostigen should consider writing down the names of the 179 individuals who have received pardons and commutations from President Bush. Each name should be placed on a separate card. Kostigen should then place the cards in a bag and draw names randomly, until he comes up with one that he knows.

And President Bush is notoriously stingy in his the pardon power (Ruckman has a good post on that, too); a more reasonable use of the pardoning power would increase the names on the list. We should not just casually dismiss something that reaches into so many lives, so many families, so many communities.

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