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How Pardons Work, And Why Massachusetts Has Not Issued One In Years

Mathieu: So let’s talk about Massachusetts, Daniel. This has come up a couple of times. People wonder what happens on the state level. How does Governor Baker, for instance, pardon someone?

Medwed: Well, it’s interesting. On the one hand, at least superficially, it’s somewhat similar to the federal model. They both follow this hybrid model where a chief executive and an administrative body share the responsibility. So in Massachusetts, there’s interplay between the governor and the Governor’s Council and the state parole board. But on the other hand when you dig deeper, Joe, there’s a bleak, very important difference. So the federal Constitution, as I noted, vests this power exclusively in the president, which means he can bypass [the] DOJ as he sees fit. We saw this dramatically last week all those stories about people approaching Trump directly or through intermediaries and basically cutting the Department of Justice out of the process. That couldn’t happen in Massachusetts because the governor’s power in this area is limited by Article 73 of our Constitution. It requires that any clemency grant must be, “by and with the advice” of Council. So the Governor’s Council plays a constitutionally mandatory role and the Massachusetts parole board plays more of an advisory role.