The broad language used in the Constitution was designed to allow for flexibility, but it also assumes public interest-minded leaders and a respect for institutional norms. Since President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, I have been deeply concerned that he would put his personal interests before those of the nation and ignore the precedents that help make our government run. His continual abuses of power are not surprising, but I am shocked by how brazen and quick Trump is to use the levers of government and the president’s constitutional authorities to protect himself, his friends, family and businesses.
In 2017, I sponsored a constitutional amendment to limit the President’s pardon power in anticipation of his corrupt conduct. That power was designed to provide the president with the ability to mitigate potentially excessive sentences or unjust legal outcomes. It is intended as a tool of mercy and justice.
Trump has turned the pardon power on its head. Rather than a tool to better pursue justice, he is using it to circumvent justice. My latest proposal, introduced in 2019, would prohibit the president from pardoning himself, his family, members of his administration and campaign employees. This would help prevent the exact type of self-dealing and reversals of justice of the pardons we are seeing issued now.