The Greater Meaning Behind the Presidential Pardon

The Greater Meaning Behind the Presidential Pardon

President Trump used his pardoning power to grant clemency to former sheriff Joe Arpaio. What does this say about Trump's tenure so far?

President Trump used his pardoning power to grant clemency to former sheriff Joe Arpaio. What does this say about Trump's tenure so far?

Text: Cassidy Morrison

While Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, President Trump was busy crafting the real news dump of the day: his decision to pardon former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. The controversial sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona was convicted of a misdemeanor count of contempt of court for defying the Constitution and continuing his practice of indiscriminately detaining Hispanics for possibly being undocumented. This will be President Trump’s first use of clemency power.

The president has theoretically unlimited pardoning power. The power to pardon comes from Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which says the president “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States.” Yes, the President can do what he pleases, but there remain judicial measures to prevent an abuse of power. Typically, pardons are processed through the office of the pardon attorney, a position Trump has yet to fill. The President bypassed the Justice Department’s special pardons division, which would draw up a review of the case’s merits. More often than not, a subject of a pardon will have exhausted his or her appeals process to be considered. Arpaio had not begun his appeals process.

Trump’s early use of the pardoning power is not unprecedented. Only a month after Nixon’s resignation, Ford pardoned him and thus exempted him from indictment and trial following the Watergate scandal. Trump’s atypical timing, as well as contempt for going through the Justice Department, sets a tone for future pardons, especially as the Russia probe moves forward. Who is next? Family? Friends? Trump himself?

Federal and state judges have continuously criticized Arpaio’s abusive practices over the past decade, one of whom, Neil Wake, ruled in favor of the ACLU in 2008. The case held that prison conditions “are unconstitutional and jeopardize the health and safety of prisoners.” Federal judge G. Murray Snow ordered Arpaio to cease and desist his racial profiling practices, referring him later to criminal prosecution when Arpaio refused. This country was built on differentiating the roles of states’ versus federal rights. Slavery, Jim Crow laws, legalized segregation; all are a product of states asserting their rights over the federal government. Similarly, Arpaio has tapped into Arizona’s state rights to perpetuate a long career built on racial profiling.

“He's done a great job for the people of Arizona,” the president said at a Monday news conference. “He's very strong on borders, very strong on illegal immigration. He is loved in Arizona. I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly.”

For being so loved in Arizona, he lost by twelve points in the same year Trump won by four. Many see this move as Trump backing a friend and an ally. Trump has said that Arpaio was “just doing his job." But doing your job does not translate to violating the Constitution and discriminating against Latinos.

Credits: Photo courtesy of Joshua Lott/Reuters

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