Mercy is best enjoyed by the living. The dead cannot receive the tangible benefits that accompany a pardon for a criminal act. The dead cannot get the restoration of their civil rights, collect money from the government with which to rebuild their lives or much else for that matter.

But that doesn’t mean the dead should not be pardoned or that a posthumous pardon is pointless. In fact, such pardons though largely symbolic, can be very important—they are a way of reckoning with an unjust past. They can signify that the policy on which a prosecution and conviction rested was wrong.