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HOFFA v. SAXBE

July 19, 1974

JAMES R. HOFFA et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
WILLIAM B. SAXBE, Defendant


Pratt, D.J.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: PRATT

This is a suit by plaintiff, *fn1" James R. Hoffa, to set aside as invalid the condition or restriction attached to the commutation of sentence granted on December 23, 1971, by the President. As a result of this commutation, plaintiff's sentence was reduced to 6-1/2 years and he was released from prison on December 23, 1971. The matter came before us on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and defendant's motions to dismiss or alternatively for summary judgment.

1. The Facts

 On March 7, 1967, plaintiff entered the Federal Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and commenced serving an aggregate sentence of thirteen years imposed as the result of two convictions for felonies. Previously, on March 4, 1964, plaintiff had been convicted before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee of two counts of obstruction of justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1503, under an indictment charging jury tampering. On March 12, 1964, he received sentences of four years on each count, the sentences to run consecutively. In August, 1964, plaintiff had been convicted before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, on four counts charging violations of the mail and wire fraud statutes, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341, 1343, and of conspiracy to defraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, with respect to a scheme to defraud a Teamsters Pension Fund. For this conviction he received sentences of five years on each count, to be served concurrently but consecutive to the eight year term earlier imposed. Both of these convictions were eventually affirmed on appeal. U.S. v. Hoffa, 437 F.2d 11 (6th Cir. 1971), cert. denied, 402 U.S. 988, 29 L. Ed. 2d 154, 91 S. Ct. 1664 (1971); U.S. v. Hoffa, 436 F.2d 1243 (7th Cir. 1970), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 1000, 27 L. Ed. 2d 451, 91 S. Ct. 455 (1971).

 The thirteen-year sentence would have expired on March 6, 1980. As computed by the Bureau of Prisons in accordance with 18 U.S.C. § 4161, plaintiff would have been eligible for mandatory release on November 28, 1975 through the deduction of statutory good time from the full thirteen-year sentence.

 In November, 1969, plaintiff applied for and was denied parole, his application being put over for eighteen months. On March 31, 1971, plaintiff was again denied parole by the Board of Parole sitting en banc. In June, 1971, plaintiff, who had continued to serve as President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters while incarcerated, resigned from said position and all affiliated organizations. In July, 1971, he did not seek election to union office at the annual convention of the Teamsters. Following plaintiff's change of status, the Board of Parole granted a rehearing of plaintiff's application but on August 20, 1971 again denied said application, deferring further consideration until June, 1972.

 On or about December 13, 1971, plaintiff, acting through his then counsel, filed two petitions for commutation addressed to the President of the United States asking that he be granted commutation of each of the sentences resulting from the previously described convictions. In each of said petitions for commutation, plaintiff, after setting forth the history of his previous applications for parole and his resignation from all union offices, made the following representation:

 
"Your petitioner does not have routine problems usually faced by persons released from prison for the reason that he has a home, a devoted family, ties in the community, and adequate assurances of a continuing livelihood. Your petitioner would be supported by and live on a pension to which he is entitled for his previous years of service to the Teamster's Union. Further, your petitioner, if he is granted a commutation of sentence, intends to enter the educational field on a limited basis as a teacher, lecturer or educator, as may be approved by your Excellency."

 The petitions for commutation were received by Lawrence Traylor, the Pardon Attorney of the Department of Justice, pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 0.35. Thereafter and prior to December 23, 1971, the Pardon Attorney prepared a recommendation that plaintiff's application for commutation be granted and forwarded said recommendation in the form of a "Letter of Advice" to the President for the Attorney General's signature. The recommendation for commutation prepared by the Pardon Attorney did not contain any condition or restriction upon plaintiff's activities when released. Upon receipt of the Letter of Advice from the Pardon Attorney, the Attorney General executed it and forwarded it to the White House. In recommending the commutation of plaintiff's sentence, the Letter of Advice from the Attorney General did not recommend that any condition be included or that there be any restriction on plaintiff's right to hold union office or engage in union activities. The Letter of Advice reached John Dean, counsel to the President, whose jurisdiction extended to such matters. Mr. Dean initiated the matter of the condition in a discussion with the Attorney General but the facts are in dispute as to whether this discussion took place before or after the receipt of the Letter of Advice. In any event, Dean, after consultation with Traylor, sent the Attorney General a legal memorandum on the subject of the condition. Later, on or about December 23, 1971, Dean instructed Traylor to prepare a new warrant commuting plaintiff's sentences and further containing the condition which is the subject of this litigation. This warrant, together with a covering memorandum, was submitted by Dean to the President, who on December 23, 1971, executed the warrant as submitted. The Letter of Advice from the Attorney General never reached the President. The warrant,

 
"commuted the combined consecutive sentences of the said James R. Hoffa, also known as James Riddle Hoffa, to a term of six and one-half years' imprisonment upon the condition that the said James R. Hoffa not engage in direct or indirect management of any labor organization prior to March sixth, 1980 * * *" *fn2"

 Through the period from December 23, 1971, when he was released from prison, to the present, plaintiff has abided by the condition of his commutation. On March 10, 1973, the standard conditions of parole applicable to plaintiff's mandatory release on December 23, 1971, expired. On February 5, 1974, plaintiff filed a formal application with the Attorney General requesting removal of the condition. Believing that relief was not imminent, this suit was filed on March 13, 1974.

 2. The Issues.

 Under Article II, Section 2, Clause One of the Constitution the President has the "Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment." The instant case challenges the exercise of that power in granting plaintiff Hoffa's conditional commutation, and alleges that the condition prohibiting Hoffa from participating in union management until 1980 unlawfully infringes on his First Amendment rights of speech and association, amounts to additional punishment and a bill of attainder as well as contravening the double jeopardy clause, all in violation of the Fifth Amendment, and contends that the condition was imposed outside the normal pardon application procedures, without due process of law, and in spite of the fact that Mr. Hoffa never "accepted" the condition. Plaintiff further alleges that the condition was formulated and imposed as the result of a conspiracy involving the President, one of his advisors, Mr. Colson, the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Mr. Fitzsimmons, and unknown others.

 Plaintiff has moved for summary judgment on all issues except for the conspiracy allegation. On the latter issue, plaintiff contends that he has a right to full discovery and a trial of the factual questions raised thereby. Defendant, however, in moving to dismiss, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, argues that the Court lacks jurisdiction to inquire into the rationale or motivations for the President's decision. The Court agrees that the matters raised by plaintiff's conspiracy charge are irrelevant to the validity vel non of the conditional commutation. We hold that the President may exercise his discretion under the Reprieves and Pardons Clause for whatever reason he deems appropriate and it is not for the courts to inquire into the rationale of his decision. See Ex parte Grossman, 267 U.S. 87, 69 L. Ed. 527, 45 S. Ct. 332 (1925). If, as the plaintiff specifically claims, the President participated in the alleged conspiracy, it necessarily follows that the President was also fully aware of the considerations motivating the final decision to commute Hoffa's sentence. There is no claim that the President was in any way deceived or misled into acting upon Hoffa's application for clemency. Plaintiff essentially charges that the President acted, at least in part, with a view toward gaining political advantage. But this fact alone, even if proven, would never be enough to vitiate an otherwise proper exercise of Constitutional power for the same reason that one cannot attack the validity of an Act of Congress on the grounds that the Congressmen who voted in favor of it did so for improper motives. The Court, therefore, grants defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's allegation of unlawful conspiracy.

 3. The Adoption by the Constitutional Convention of 1787 of the Pardons and Reprieves Clause.

 A. The English and colonial precedents.

 By the time of our Constitutional Convention of 1787, the framers could draw upon their knowledge of English practice as well as their more immediate experience with colonial charters in devising the structure and form of our national government. *fn3" In the first Supreme Court opinion which considered the President's pardoning power, Chief Justice Marshall explicitly recognized the importance of English practice in interpreting the scope of that power:

 
"As this power had been exercised, from time immemorial, by the executive of that nation whose language is our language, and to whose judicial institutions ours bear a close resemblance; we adopt their principles respecting the operation and effect of a pardon, and look into their books for the rules prescribing the manner in which it is to be used by the person who would avail himself of it." ( United States v. Wilson, 32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 150, 160, 8 L. Ed. 640).

 In order properly to interpret the nature and extent of the King's pardoning prerogative, it is appropriate to trace the development of that authority within the context of the historical setting of the power struggles, first among the King, nobles and the Church, and subsequently between the King and Parliament, which took place in England during at least the ten centuries immediately preceding our Convention. According to one authority, the pardon prerogative was clearly established in English practice as early as the seventh century but it was also clear that numberous authorities, in addition to the King, claimed the right to exercise it, including the Church, various members of the nobility, and the feudal courts. *fn4" As another source has put it, "[the] privilege of pardon was a question of power, not yet a problem of law." *fn5"

 The Norman Conquest of 1066 brought with it, through William the Conqueror, "the view that clemency was an exclusive privilege of the king." *fn6" But by the 14th century Parliament was strongly contending for supremacy through attempts to curtail royal power, including the power to pardon. *fn7" With the rise of the Tudors, however, and in particular Henry VIII, Parliament succumbed in the struggle and the power to pardon was lodged solely in the King with the enactment of 27 Henry VIII, ch. 24 in 1535. *fn8"

 After having recognized the King's pardon prerogative as "exclusive," *fn9" Parliament, slowly evolving as the supreme political power of England, began a process of limiting the King's prerogative in certain particulars. By the time of our Constitutional Convention, Parliament's supremacy was clearly demonstrated by three important limitations on the King's pardoning power: (1) the Habeas Corpus Act *fn10" which forbade clemency to persons who imprisoned English citizens "beyond the realm"; (2) the Bill of Rights *fn11" which prohibited the King from granting "dispensations," i.e., suspending or disregarding a given law in particular cases; and (3) the Act of Settlement *fn12" prohibiting the use of pardon in cases of impeachment. Moreover, by 1721, Parliament asserted its own right to pardon, thus symbolizing, perhaps, that the balance of political power in England had tipped irretrievably in favor of Parliament. *fn13"

 We have traced this historical process to emphasize one essential point. The British system of government, unlike ours, has never been governed by a written constitution. Over the centuries Parliament slowly encroached upon the powers of the King until at some point Parliament became unequivocally supreme. The history of the King's pardoning prerogative is but a microcosm of that general process. As plaintiff rightfully points out, the King's inherent power to pardon was, by the time of our Constitutional Convention, clearly circumscribed by Parliament but always by specific legislative proscription directed at enumerated exercises of that power. It was implicitly understood that unless specifically limited, the King's power was plenary and without restriction.

 In theory, the King, as sovereign, could forgive all offenses against the crown. *fn14" In an age where indeterminate sentences and parole boards were unknown, the King's pardon was the "last and surest resort," *fn15" of the convict in attempting to have the nature or extent of his punishment mitigated. Indeed, the King's pardon was the sole device for altering punishment according to "the situation and circumstances of the offender." *fn16" As such the royal pardoning power was in fact a predecessor of the modern criminal justice devices of probation and parole. *fn17"

 At the time our Constitution was adopted in 1787, the King's pardon was an integral part of the English system of criminal justice. It is not surprising, therefore, that conditional pardons were also a part of that system. Blackstone points out that

 
"the king may extend his mercy upon what terms he pleases; and may annex to his bounty a condition either precedent or subsequent, on performance whereof the validity of the pardon will depend; and this by the common law." *fn18"

 Plaintiff argues, however, that the history of English practice demonstrates that Blackstone's characterization of the power was overbroad and contends that the King's power was inherently limited to the imposition of conditions which had been previously authorized by Parliament. No express authority is cited for this proposition but rather plaintiff apparently believes that this limitation was implicit in the actual exercise of the King's power. By way of example, plaintiff contends that the commonly used condition of banishment to the English colonies *fn19" has as its bases the so-called Piracy Act of 1717. *fn20"

 Plaintiff's claim is somewhat wide of the mark. Parliament had in fact imposed the punishment of banishment as early as the 16th century for rogues and vagabonds who appeared to be dangerous. *fn21" Throughout the 17th century Parliament enacted other statutes which imposed banishment for other specified crimes. *fn22" "But at the same time a practice sprang up which was applied to all felons under sentence of death. They could petition the King for a pardon on condition of their agreeing to transport themselves to the colonies either for life or for a specified term." *fn23" It was only later, when certain procedural and enforcement problems arose, *fn24" that Parliament enacted the Piracy Act. This act expedited the procedures for obtaining such a conditional pardon and expressly made the recipient of the pardon liable to the death penalty in the event he returned to England prematurely.

 The point to be emphasized is that it was the King who first initiated banishment as a condition to his pardon. The power of the King to grant such a condition to any felon, even where banishment was not a punishment authorized by law for the felon's crime, was inherent in the royal prerogative and was never questioned. *fn25" It is true in all probability that by the 18th century Parliament had ascended to such a position of permanent power that it could have, if it so desired, forbidden the crown from conditioning pardons in this manner. But as with all similar parliamentary limitations on the King's prerogative, the restriction would have said nothing about the inherent nature and scope of the power. As we have emphasized above, and as our courts have noted, *fn26" the pardoning power at base is inherently unfettered except by the integrity of the repository of the power. The power's very origin and inception as something above and beyond the normal workings, restrictions and limitations of the criminal justice system fully supports this understanding. *fn27"

 Only one limitation on the King's prerogative might be considered inherent to the pardoning power itself. The King, as sovereign, could forgive any offense against the crown but could not absolve a subject's liability to another party because to do so would be to extinguish the personal rights of a private suitor. As Blackstone put it, the King had no power to pardon "where private justice is principally concerned" under the doctrine of " non potest rex graciam facere cum injuria et damno aliorum " (the king cannot confer a favour by the injury and loss of others)." *fn28"

 From this rather limited (and logical) principle of the English common law, the plaintiff concludes that "vested rights could not be destroyed by the pardon power." *fn29" In support of his position, he quotes the following passage from Hawkins' Pleas of the Crown:


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