Talking Turkey: The Presidential Pardoning Power

November 27, 2013

Obama turkey pardonThanksgiving will soon be here, and with Thanksgiving comes the annual Presidential Turkey Pardon. The White House blog has a “Definitive History” of the Presidential Turkey Pardon. Turkeys were originally presented for Presidential dining pleasure, but over time, the presented turkeys were frequently granted mercy, and in 1989, President George H.W. Bush offered the first “presidential pardon” to a turkey presented to him. The tradition now continues, often with two lucky turkeys being pardoned prior to Thanksgiving, when so many of their brethren meet a more delicious (to us) fate.

The Presidential pardoning power goes beyond turkeys of course. The Pardon Clause is located in Article II, Section 2, clause 1 of the United States Constitution. (U.S.C.A. Const. Art. II § 2, cl. 1). The clause gives the President the power to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” The Office of the Pardon Attorney maintains statistics of Presidential Pardons on their website.

President Obama has not used his pardon power to the extent that some former Presidents have. During his Presidency, President Obama utilized the power only 39 times. Other Presidents granted more pardons in a single year. President Clinton drew controversy and criticism for granting 177 last-minute pardons and commutations on his last day in office. His pardons included his own half-brother, convicted of drug offenses, as well as financial contributors to the Democratic party and the Clinton Presidential Library. The Lobbying Disclosure Act now requires reporting of contributions of $200 or more made to a Presidential library foundation.  See 2 U.S.C.A. 1604 added by PL 1101-81.    Read Arlen Specter’s comments introducing the bill at 147 Cong. Rec. S3154-01.


A plain language search for Presidential Pardon in all statutes on WestlawNext pulls back not only the U.S. Constitution Pardon Clause, but state-level clemency provisions.

TX CRIM PRO Art. 48.01 – Governor May Pardon

MS CONST Art. 5, § 124 – Reprieves and Pardons

AR CONST Art. 6, § 18 – Executive Clemency