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The Presidents and the Constitution: A Living History, by Ken Gormley

If you are interested in constitutional law, I highly recommend this book. It was published in May, 2016, and can be found in your public library or ordered from any book store. It is an interesting discussion of presidential decisions or actions and the constitutional implications.

Here is just one example. If you grew up during the time of Watergate, you may find this particularly interesting. Like most people, I had always assumed that President Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon gave Nixon a “get out of jail free” card. My guess is that this decision caused Ford the election to his first full term as President.

When the author interviewed Gerald Ford for the book, of course Nixon’s pardon came up. Ford said that he had asked a young lawyer, Denton Decker, to research all the nuances and possible issues that might occur if Ford were to pardon Nixon. The idea of pardoning Nixon was very unpopular. Ford wanted to know what possible precedent and repercussions a pardon might mean.

Decker finds Burdick v. United States, 236 U.S. 79 (1915). Burdick holds that, if one accepts a pardon, it is an admission of guilt.

Ford sent Decker to San Clemente to Nixon’s home to present the offer of a pardon to Nixon and Nixon’s lawyer. Decker gave Nixon a Miranda warning and told him that, if Nixon accepted a pardon, it would be an admission of guilt. Nixon at first didn’t want to accept the pardon because he understood what it meant. Another issue on the table at the same time was the creation of a presidential library for Nixon’s papers, which the author says Nixon badly wanted. After first resisting, Nixon decided to take the pardon.

When Ford pardoned Nixon, he thought he had given the public exactly what it wanted. Instead, it was seen as letting Nixon off, even though Nixon was obviously guilty. When interviewed by Mr. Gormley for this book, Ford was still frustrated that the public had never seemed to understand that, by accepting a pardon, Nixon admitted his guilt.

An interesting piece of history and a good read. -CCE

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