Few Americans could find the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on a map. Fewer still know anything of its constitutional jurisprudence. Donald Trump could change all that if he exercises the right he claims to have to pardon himself (here). Vanuatu is the only country whose courts have ruled on the validity of a presidential self-pardon, and the merits of their ruling would surely be fodder for editorials, op-eds, and cable television’s
blabbers learned commentators.
Vanuatu’s courts had the unprecedented case thrust upon them thanks to the action of Marcellino Pipite. Speaker of the Vanuatu legislature, in accordance with the country’s constitution he served as acting president whenever the sitting president was abroad. During one period of service a long running trial where he and 13 other parliamentarians were on trial for bribery ended in a guilty verdict against all fourteen. Pipite then promptly exercised the president’s constitutional pardon power, excusing himself and the other defendants from any criminal wrongdoing.
The validity of a Trump self-pardon would surely come before the Supreme Court, and it has long looked to decisions of foreign courts when deciding its cases (here). Indeed, one of the most influential justices of the 20th century, whose acolytes include the current Chief Justice, was a firm believer in looking to decisions of foreign courts for guidance when deciding constitutional issues. Nor did then Chief Justice Rehnquist limit what foreign court decisions should be examined.
“Now that constitutional law is solidly grounded in so many countries, it is time that the United States courts begin looking to the decisions of other constitutional courts to aid in their own deliberative process” (here).Continue reading