Can the President Pardon Me?

Two hours before leaving office, President Clinton pardoned 176 Americans, including figures from the Whitewater scandal, a fugitive whose ex-wife raised $320,000 for the Democratic Party in the past two years, and his own brother. Is there anyone the president can’t pardon?

Yes. The president cannot pardon someone for a state offense. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution gives the president the “Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” (For a discussion of what “except in cases of impeachment means” and whether the president can pardon himself, read this “Explainer.”) That means the president can pardon only for federal crimes.


The president’s pardon power is much more extensive than the Texas governor’s, who can’t grant clemency to a death-row inmate. (For an explanation of this difference between clemency, pardons, and commutations, read this Explainer.) But now that he’s president, George W. Bush can’t even grant Texas prisoners the 30-day reprieve that the state constitution allows. That’s up to Texas’ new governor, Rick Perry.

Next question?

In need of a pardon? Read this Explainer to find out how to get one.

Explainer thanks Phillip Chase Bobbitt and Sanford V. Levinson, professors of constitutional law at the University of Texas School of Law.