Sunday, November 30, 2008

State-Level Turkey-Pardoning: Is It Legal?

The eyes of the nation continue to be fixed on now-just-Governor Sarah Palin, who amused and bemused us last week with her high-profile turkey-pardoning pronouncement and subsequent "Faces of Death 2008" video-shoot. While I swallowed my dinner back down I had occasion to wonder: does a state governor really get to pardon a turkey?

I don't mean to pile on Ms. Palin. Well, I do — but not today. Today I'm thinking about federalism, the Constitution's Supremacy Clause, preemption, and what could happen to America's turkey factories (er, growers) if the chief executives of the Several States continue to go around relieving the nation's gobblers from their late-November obligations. This wasn't just an isolated incident in Alaska, after all: the governors of Alabama, Minnesota, Missouri, and North Dakota all made news this year with similar gestures of clemency.

This is all well and good, a break from politics for a bit of "levity," as Governor Palin said. But when you consider that these governors probably don't have the legal authority to put these turkeys back on the streets, it all starts to look a bit sinister. It's well-established, under the law, that the federal and state governments operate distinct, parallel criminal justice systems. Indeed, it's constitutionally axiomatic (by which I mean, "everybody but Sarah Palin should know") that the governor of a state can't use his/her pardon powers to excuse a person from federal charges.

With that in mind, and when you consider that Thanksgiving is a national holiday, one can't but conclude that these soft-on-poultry governors are acting in blatant excess of their constitutional powers. It's an open-and-shut case. Sure, all this seems "cute." The people smile and nod while these state officials take aim at the core of our constitutional system. A turkey wins its freedom today, and this seems like a laudable result. But what of tomorrow? What powers will these ambitious governors feel emboldened to arrogate to themselves tomorrow?

The Law is the Law. Unless the President of the United States intervenes to save them, these turkeys must die. For the sake of our nation, these turkeys must die.

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