If you've been watching the news lately, you may have heard that Scooter Libby recently had his prison sentence commuted by President Bush (though given that the Daily Show and Colbert Report are on vacation this week, I can forgive you for not knowing). Bush's rationale for this, taken from Wikipedia:
Mr. Libby was sentenced to thirty months of prison, two years of probation, and a $250,000 fine. In making the sentencing decision, the district court rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation.
I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby's sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.
My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby. The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting.
I can't find the exact quote at the moment (help me out here if you can), but I'll point out that the unmasking of an agent such as Valerie Plame was specifically described by Bush as being "treason." So, for someone committing treason, why would he think that 30 days in jail was too harsh? Doesn't he usually do much worse things to people who haven't even been convicted?
Okay, let's drop the veil of neutrality. Anyone disagree that he just did this because Libby was acting under orders from higher up? Of course, that's not an excuse for breaking the law, but when the people ordering to break it have the ability to protect you from any punishment for doing so, there's a little conflict of interest.
We really need to reform the pardoning system. As it is, it gives unlimited power to the executive branch to immunize anyone they want for breaking any law they want (unless the legislature goes through an impeachment proceeding, but this only works on elected officials). This has been abused in the past, and it's being abused now. However, there are a few arguments for it, such as it being a check on judicial decisions. In response, I think what we need is another check. For instance, make it possible for Congress (or some subsection) to overturn a pardon by popular vote. Any thoughts on this idea?