Is it true that the POTUS can make an official pardon at any time via a mere tweet? If so what would the tweet need to have/not-have to qualify as a legally legitimate pardon?

For example, if the POTUS wanted to pardon Snowden, would a tweet like "I hereby pardon Edward Joseph Snowden of his crimes against the United States of America." (or whatever) actually work? Would it actually work in court?


Art II, Sec 2, Cl 1 of The Constitution says of the president "and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment". The Constitution does not state any further restrictions on the presidential power, and there are no statutory limits, because, as observed in Ex parte Garland, 71 U.S. 333

The power of pardon conferred by the Constitution upon the President is unlimited except in cases of impeachment. It extends to every offence known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken or during their pendency, or after conviction and judgment. The power is not subject to legislative control.

Accordingly, presidents have written pardons on and with numerous different writing instruments. Insofar as there are no constitutional restrictions beyond the aforementioned, it is not required that a pardon be signed, or that it be on a tangible semi-permanent medium. It is impossible to know what such a pardon tweet would look like, beyond the limit on length.

The one place where a presidential signature is required is under the Presentment Clause, that when presented with a bill that passed the two houses of Congress, "If he approve he shall sign it". Such a signature need not be actually written by the president, it may and often is written by an autopen. The question of the legality of autopen signatures for bills has not been presented to SCOTUS, but the Department of Justice has issued an opinion (July 7, 2005) that it is legal.

I have failed to locate a repository of presidential pardons (the actual documents), so I do not know if, so far, all presidential pardons were written down and signed, though I would expect it to be so. The Arpaio pardon was signed (or auto-signed), likewise Obama's final mass-pardon on Jan 17, and previous Obama pardons were, but pre-Obama, DOJ does not provide any document.

  • A Tweet is generally considered a signed writing assuming you can authenticate that it was really written by the President, but this would be non-trivial. If a staffer wrote it and pressed the button at the President's alleged direction, I'm not sure that it would qualify as a Presidential pardon. It might be necessary to get an affidavit or something similar from the White House to authenticate the Tweet for it to have practical legal effect. – ohwilleke Sep 1 '17 at 18:45
  • What kind of text is needed for it to be a legit pardon? Are their rules? Or is it just "whatever is able to be understood by a judge" with the implications of the pardon being valued above the use of "politically correct" language? – Tirous Sep 2 '17 at 2:00
  • The law is completely open on the matter of the form of a pardon, and without a constitutional amendment is likely to remain so. – user6726 Sep 2 '17 at 2:52
  • It doesn't appear to even require that the president WRITE a pardon. Can the president pardon via verbal decree? – Matt Sep 2 '17 at 14:03

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