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Mississippi Supreme Court Upholds Outgoing Governor’s Controversial Pardons

Posted Mar 9, 2012 9:37 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The Mississippi Supreme Court is citing separation of powers in upholding controversial pardons by outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour.

Attorney General Jim Hood had contended the governor failed to follow a state constitutional requirement that bars pardons unless the applicant has published a notice for 30 days in the county where the crime occurred. But in a 6-3 opinion on Thursday, the court said “it fell to the governor alone to decide whether the Constitution's publication requirement was met." The Associated Press, the New York Times and CNN have stories.

The opinion (PDF) begins this way: “At the outset, we wish to state that this case is not about whether the governor is above the law. He clearly is not, and any implication in the dissents, or elsewhere, that he is—or that a majority of this court believes he is—is incorrect. This case is about whether this Supreme Court has the right, authority, and power to declare itself superior to, and above, both the other two branches of government in all matters of constitutional compliance. While this court clearly has the constitutional duty to interpret the content of laws passed by the Legislature and executive orders issued by the governor, we decline—as have so many other courts before us—to assume for ourselves the absolute power to police the other branches of government in fulfilling their constitutional duties to produce laws and executive orders, unless there is alleged a justiciable violation of a personal right.”

In his last days in office, Barbour had granted executive clemency to 215 people. Only 26 were still in custody at the time. Among those pardoned were four convicted murderers who had worked at the governor’s mansion. The court ruled quickly after accepting the case last month.

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