Trump’s Theater of Pardoning


Publish Date:
March 31, 2020
Publication Title:
Stanford Law Review Online
Journal Article
  • Bernadette Meyler, Trump’s Theater of Pardoning, 72 Stanford Law Review Online 92 (2020).



In many ways, President Trump has returned to a performance of pardoning more familiar to early modern England than to contemporary America. Largely eschewing bureaucratic processes, Trump has taken advantage of the political theater that pardoning can provide. Like some of the real-life and fictional kings who appear in my book, Theaters of Pardoning, Trump has also called law and legal regimes into question through his pardons, and, in doing so, asserted his own impunity from law. Ignoring the common law restrictions that had accreted around pardoning, Trump has chosen to interpret his power as absolute, unfettered by norms like refraining from judging in one’s own case and forgiving but not forgetting. And this is only the story of Trump’s formal pardons. As Kenji Yoshino’s essay in this Symposium [Book Review Symposium — Bernadette Meyler, Theaters of Pardoning, Ithaca, NY; London: Cornell University Press, 2019] elaborates, Trump’s numerous revisions of history represent even more pervasive efforts at enacting amnesty and oblivion.