The Scope of the President’s Pardon Power

10 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2019

See all articles by James P. Pfiffner

James P. Pfiffner

Schar School of Policy and Government

Date Written: March 31, 2019


The text of the Constitutional provision on pardons seems straightforward: Article II, Sec. 2 provides that, the President “shall have the Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” Aside from the exception for impeachment, the statement seems unqualified and plenary. And indeed, the pardon power is one of the most unquestioned powers of the president. There is no ready check or limit from the other branches, as there are with most other powers of the president. Supreme Court decisions have affirmed the president’s pardon power and protected it from congressional interference, yet the jurisprudence on pardons is not simple. This analysis examines the origins of the pardon power in Anglo-American jurisprudence, analyzes the scope of the pardon power, explores its limitations, assess its potential for abuse, and takes up the possibility of presidential self pardons.

Suggested Citation

Pfiffner, James P., The Scope of the President’s Pardon Power (March 31, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

James P. Pfiffner (Contact Author)

Schar School of Policy and Government ( email )

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