Top Georgia Republicans dismiss pro-Trump calls to change pardon rules

Georgia’s most powerful Republican politicians rejected pro-Donald Trump calls to change the state constitution to give the governor direct authority to pardon those convicted of crimes.

Far-right Trump supporters have pressed Gov. Brian Kemp and other GOP leaders to pursue an overhaul of pardon rules after the former president was charged this week with orchestrating a far-ranging “criminal enterprise” to overturn his defeat in Georgia’s 2020 election.

Such a move would involve a constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds vote in the General Assembly and support from a majority of voters in a referendum. It can’t pass without significant Democratic support, rendering it a political impossibility.

Kemp adviser Cody Hall compared the conspiracy theories that dominated pro-Trump circles in the last presidential election to the pressure campaign now to overhaul the pardon process.

“Where have I heard special session, changing decades-old law, and overturning constitutional precedent before?” Hall asked. “Oh right, prior to Republicans losing two Senate runoffs in January of 2021.”

He added: “What are people hoping to learn in the second kick of the election-losing mule?”

A top deputy to House Speaker Jon Burns also dismissed the idea.

“Given the political makeup of the General Assembly,” Burns spokesman Kaleb McMichen said, “such an amendment is not feasible and thus would not merit consideration.”

‘Official forgiveness’

The pushback is a response to demands from Trump loyalists for a sweeping rewrite of the pardon regulations that have proliferated on social media and conservative outlets.

Among them is Mike Davis, a former GOP Senate aide who runs a conservative advocacy group. In a Fox News appearance this week, he called on Republican lawmakers to “give Gov. Kemp the ability to pardon in this situation because this is clear election interference.”

Trump’s allies could also attempt to overhaul the board’s regulations to speed up the timeline to consider a pardon — or allow members to issue a pardon at any time.

Even if Republicans had the votes to pass the measure, it’s unlikely Kemp would embrace a change.

The second-term Republican is no ally of Trump, who tried to oust him from office last year. And, like his recent predecessors, Kemp has made no attempt to exert direct control over the pardon process.

Gov. Brian Kemp, like governors before him, has made no attempt to exert direct control over the state's pardon process. He appoints members to the board that makes decisions on pardons. (Hyosub Shin /

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

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Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

The law dates to 1943, when Georgia voters adopted a constitutional amendment after former Gov. E.D. Rivers was indicted on a slate of corruption charges that included accusations that he sold pardons.

It created a state Board of Pardons and Paroles whose five-member panel is appointed by the governor. The law limits who can seek a reprieve, permitting only those who have completed their sentence and “lived a law-abiding life” for at least five years to apply for a pardon.

Even those who are granted pardons by the Georgia board aren’t exonerated of wrongdoing.

“It does not expunge, remove or erase the crime from your record,” read a statement from the board, which compared a state pardon to an “order of official forgiveness” that can help a recipient line up a job or educational opportunity.