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Of presidential pardons — drug offenders and polygamists

Published April 30, 2014 2:06 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A recent column by Gene Healy in the Washington Examiner included this interesting paragraph.

Indeed, as law professors Charles Shanor and Marc Miller explain in a 2001 article, "at least a third of all United States presidents [starting with] the earliest administrations, have used systematic pardons," granting clemency to whole classes of offenders, groups as diverse as pirates, Confederate rebels, Mormon bigamists and wartime draft dodgers.

Healy's column was a defense of President Obama's plan to grant clemency to or otherwise release from prison some nonviolent drug offenders. He was trying to point out that U.S. presidents have used the power to grant pardons and reprieves for certain types of offenders and in cases of injustices.

The "Mormon bigamists" is a reference to actions taken by presidents Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland. Harrison issued pardons in 1891 and 1893. One of the polygamists he pardoned in 1891 was Joseph F. Smith, who went on to be president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Cleveland issued a general pardon to Mormon polygamists in 1894.

— Nate Carlisle

Twitter: @natecarlisle