EX PARTE GROSSMAN
In 1920, legal action was taken against Philip Grossman for selling liquor at his place of business in violation of the National Prohibition Act. He violated a federal court injunction by continuing to sell alcoholic beverages. He was found guilty of criminal contempt of court and sentenced to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge issued a pardon that reduced Grossman's sentence to payment of the fine.
Did the president have the constitutional authority to commute a sentence for criminal contempt of court?
In a unanimous decision, the Court found that a presidential pardon for a criminal contempt of court sentence was within the powers of the executive. There is nothing in the words "offenses against the United States" that excludes criminal contempts in the Constitution. Actions that violate the dignity or authority of the federal courts violate the law of the United States, making these contempts offenses against the United States. The president's pardon authority includes such offenses. Without destroying the deterrent effect of judicial punishment, the president's powers are to act as checks against undue prejudice or needless severity in such sentencing by the judicial branch.