President Joe Biden just exercised a key presidential power for the first time. Biden’s milestone has received little press no doubt because it carries none of the controversy that was customary with the former guy. Indeed, Biden’s first set of actions under the U.S. Constitution’s pardon power (Article II, Section 2, Clause 1) represents yet another slamming of the door on Donald Trump’s rampant corruption and reckless testing of boundaries.
On Tuesday, Biden announced he is granting three presidential pardons and commuting the sentence of 75 other individuals. Abraham W. Bolden Sr., the first Black Secret Service agent on a presidential detail (protecting President John F. Kennedy), was convicted for allegedly attempting to sell a copy of a government file. However, Bolden claimed he was the victim of retaliation for exposing racist behavior in the agency, and a second trial (after a hung jury) led to key witnesses admitting to lying at the prosecution’s request.
The other two pardoned individuals, Betty Jo Bogans and Dexter Eugene Jackson, accepted responsibility and turned their life around after release following convictions on drug-related charges some two decades ago. Biden noted each person’s “commitment to rehabilitation” while “striving every day to give back and contribute to their communities.” Biden’s 75 sentence commutations are for people convicted of non-violent drug offenses, many of which would have triggered lighter punishment under today’s laws.
Biden’s first exercise of this Constitutional power coincides with Clemency and Second Chance Month, during which his administration is focusing on ways to “deliver reforms that advance equity and justice, provide second chances, and enhance the wellbeing and safety of all Americans.” Also on Tuesday, the White House released a Fact Sheet detailing a comprehensive strategy for successful reentry that “makes our communities safe, disrupts cycles of economic hardship, and strengthens our economy.”
By contrast, Donald Trump made his deplorable pardon debut by sparing birther and unabashed racist Joe Arpaio an expected prison sentence following his federal guilty charge of criminal contempt. Three and a half years later, in the final hour of his failed term, Trump pardoned or commuted the sentences of 143 people, including a nick-of-time pardon for Steve Bannon, who had yet to stand trial following his arrest for fraud.
Just a few months ago, Trump pledged at a Texas rally that he would pardon anyone criminally charged in connection with the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol if he runs for and wins the 2024 election. So, while Biden may have succeeded in restoring our faith in the pardoning system, democracies are fragile. There’s nothing to stop Trump or someone worse from gaining power and reversing progress again—nothing, that is, but us voters.