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Miss. high court ponders validity of former Gov. Barbour's pardons

Pete Williams reports on Thursday's hearing.

Updated at 2:26 p.m. ET: JACKSON, Miss. – Attorneys for a group of inmates told the Mississippi Court on Thursday that former Gov. Haley Barbour's decision to pardon nearly 200 people, including some convicted murderers, during his last hours in office was constitutional.

The Mississippi Supreme Court  was holding the hearing to determine whether Barbour's pardons are valid.

Attorney Thomas Fortner said that previous pardon rulings suggest the governor's pardon power is absolute and cannot be reviewed by judges.

"If you have a valid pardon signed by the governor ... it is not open to judicial review," Fortner told the court.

"The governor as the chief executive is granted the power to pardon and is the judge of the propriety of the publication," he said. "The constitution does not give the power to anybody to review that."

Attorney General Jim Hood, arguing for the state, contended that pardon power is not absolute and that courts can review the constitutionality of the governor's acts. He also contended that if ads notifying the public weren't run in daily papers every day for 30 days, or weekly newspapers once a week for five weeks, the pardons aren't valid.

Rogelio V. Solis / AP

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, right, listens as attorney Thomas Fortner, left, who represents a group of former inmates, tells the Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday that former Gov. Haley Barbour's pardons of them are valid.

"We agree that the wisdom of the governor in granting a pardon, and to whom he grants that pardon, is not an issue that we’re concerned with,” Hood told the justices. “What a court  does have jurisidiction to address is whether or not that pardon itself is valid, whether it violates our constitution.”

Several victims and family members of victims were among those in attendance watching the arguments.

Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. said no decision would be announced Thursday, but did not say when the court might rule.

Before leaving office Jan. 10, Barbour granted pardons to 198 people and granted other types of reprieves such as sentence suspensions and medical releases to others. Only the pardons required publication of intent.

Ten of the people pardoned were incarcerated at the time Barbour, a Republican, signed the orders. Five governor's mansion trustees were released before Hood, the only Democrat in statewide office, got a lower court judge to issue a temporary restraining order. That restraining order has kept five other pardoned inmates behind bars until the legal challenge is decided.

Many of those others who were pardoned had been out of prison for years and in some cases for decades, but their chance of having their rights restored could be wiped out in the legal battle over the pardons of those convicted of violent crimes. Hood has said only 22 of them published the proper notification.

Barbour has said he's at peace with the pardons because his Christian faith teaches about redemption. He accused Hood of trying to score political points.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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