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Specter proposes amendment limiting pardons


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WASHINGTON (CNN) - In response to former President Clinton's controversial pardons, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania is proposing a constitutional amendment to empower Congress with the ability to overturn such moves.

Specter is reviving an idea first introduced by then-Sen. Walter Mondale in 1974 to allow Congress to overturn any pardon with a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate within 180 days from when the pardon is granted.

The Constitution grants the president sole power to issue pardons; therefore, a constitutional amendment must be passed in order to alter that power.

"This authority, analogous to the English monarch's pardon power, should be modified in light of recent experience and recognition of the basic fact that the president is not the king who, it was said, could no wrong," Specter wrote in a letter to his colleagues asking for their support.

"As we all know, laws may be enacted over the president's veto by a vote of two-thirds of each House. Two-thirds of each House are sufficient for a constitutional amendment subject to ratification by three-fourths of the states and the president may be removed from office by a two-thirds vote of the Senate after articles of impeachment are filed by a majority of the House of Representatives," wrote Specter.

"From these analogies, we suggest that it is pre-eminently reasonable to set aside a pardon on a two-thirds vote of each House as proposed by the Mondale Amendment," he concluded.

Specter was charged by Senate GOP leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, with looking into Clinton's pardon of financier Marc Rich, and he intends to hold hearings through the Judiciary Committee next week.

"Under existing law, presidential actions may be checked and balanced by Congress and even removed from office, a far more drastic remedy, but the pardon power is absolute. When pardons are granted at the very end of president's term, the impeachment power is meaningless on this issue," Specter said in his letter.

"We have added a provision to authorize Congress to establish procedures, so that the president must hear both sides before he may grant the pardon. Department of Justice regulations provide for such procedures, but the president is free to ignore them as he did in the recent pardons so that prosecutors and victims had no opportunity to be heard."

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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