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Noah Feldman

Presidential Pardons Have Been a Bad Idea Since 1787

President Trump shouldn’t have the power of a king, and neither should anyone else.

No pardons, please.

No pardons, please.

Photographer: Olivier Douliery/Getty Images

The president of the United States isn’t a king, and he isn’t above the law — or so constitutional law professors like me keep reminding everybody. But the painful truth is that there is one exception to this truth: the pardon power, exercised this week by President Donald Trump to free or absolve several white-collar criminals.

The presidential power to pardon is a holdover from British monarchy. And pardoning by definition goes above and outside the legal system. The pardon power therefore poses a structural threat to the republican character of the U.S. government.