By Jennie Lusk
Congress passed the “Protect Our Democracy Act” last December, whose provisions include reform of the presidential pardon power. As the midterms approach and Democrats have the opportunity to increase majorities in the House and Senate, the bill’s reforms seem closer to reality–and increasingly more urgent, given current events.
The federal bill would require the chief executive to explain the grant of pardons, for instance, holding the former president to account for the pardon of Steve Bannon (among others) and potentially making it impossible for a sitting president to pardon all insurrectionists, as the 45th has promised.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s recent partial pardon of one of the most important leaders working to protect women who live on Albuquerque’s streets–Cindy Vigil Jaramillo–demonstrates the legitimate ends of the power of a chief executive to grant mercy despite the current state of the laws. It achieves the ends of justice by recognizing Jaramillo’s decades of service to the community since conviction.
For the past 25 years, Jaramillo has served women who live on Albuquerque’s streets. She co-founded Street Safe New Mexico, whose regular good works include publication of the Bad Guy List that names rapists, “johns,” and other predators who endanger women on the streets. Jaramillo’s conviction foreclosed her opportunities to become a certified medical assistant and dental hygienist and has challenged her ability to qualify for safe housing. Ideally, the governor’s partial pardon will help Jaramillo as she continues to move forward and provide for her children. Ideally, the former president’s promises to pardon people whose intent was to undermine the whole of the U.S. system of legal protections will be foreclosed by passage of the Protecting Our Democracy Act in a new U.S. House and Senate under Democratic control.
According to the official summation at Congress.gov, the Protecting Our Democracy bill addresses issues involving (1) abuses of presidential power; (2) checks and balances, accountability, and transparency; and (3) election integrity and security. To correct abuses of presidential power, the bill: requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the President to disclose materials justifying pardons and prohibits presidential self-pardons, suspends the statute of limitations for federal offenses committed by a sitting President or Vice President, prohibits the acceptance of foreign or domestic emoluments, and establishes enforcement authority for the Office of Government Ethics and Office of Special Counsel.
To address checks and balances, accountability, and transparency, the bill helps in enforcement congressional subpoenas, as well as imposing limits on presidential declarations of emergencies, requiring DOJ to maintain a log of communications between it and the White House, protecting inspectors general and whistleblowers, and requiring candidates for President or Vice President to produce their tax returns to the Federal Election Commission.
To address election integrity and security, the bill: requires federal campaign reporting of foreign contacts, changes requirements fo disclosure of foreign donations to political campaigns and candidates,prohibits distribution of materially deceptive audio or visual media prior to an election (i.e., deepfakes), and establishes a program to support states and localities transition to ranked choice voting systems.