Arpaio Pardon: Controversial but Not Unprecedented 

Joe Arpaio speaking at a Trump rally in 2016. (Unmodified photo by Gage Skidmore used under a Creative Commons license.

President Trump’s decision to pardon Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio raised eyebrows across the political spectrum in August.

The possible consequences of the president’s decision are not limited to the Arpaio case; instead, they extend to the relationship between the White House and the federal courts, and the proceedings of the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election.

While sometimes contentious, presidential pardons are a legitimate and common practice during a president’s term, Article II of the Constitution assigns the president the power to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”

Traditionally, presidents grant pardons in the later years of their term, for example, President Clinton’s 2001 pardon of Marc Rich, an international commodities trader charged with tax evasion, was pardoned on Clinton’s last day in office.

Typically, pardons are also processed through the Department of Justice. The pardon attorney will make pardon recommendations after a convicted criminal makes a request for pardon. The Justice Department usually makes prospective applicants wait at least five years following their conviction or release from prison before completing an application. The application is usually only accepted after the applicant expresses remorse for their unlawful actions.

Currently, Larry Kupers is serving as the acting pardon attorney and because there was no clemency petition sent from Arpaio, Kupers did not interact in the pardon procedure, according to Department of Justice Spokesperson Nicole Navas Oxman.

On August 30, Jeff Sessions designated Kupers as the acting pardon attorney, a senior executive service position which is chosen through the Department of Justice.

Instead, it was a decision made solely by President Trump. While the decision was lawful given the powers defined in the Constitution, it waivers from past presidential proceeding: Arpaio had not yet been sentenced as his court date was October 5.

While this is highly unusual, this is not the first time a president has pardoned someone before an official sentencing. In 1974, President Gerald Ford pardoned former President Richard Nixon for crimes he “committed or may not have committed” during his tenure as president.

Arpaio’s original crime was not only illegal, but it was unconstitutional. Arpaio was convicted on July 31 for ignoring a court order to halt policing practices that infringed upon the rights of Latinos in Maricopa County.

Some also claim that the pardon appears to be a calculated, political move by President Trump.

President Trump announced Monday, regarding the timing of the pardon, that he believed TV ratings would be high even with the approaching Hurricane Harvey.

In addition, on the 2016 campaign trial, Arpaio was an avid supporter of Trump and his hardline stance on illegal immigration, even speaking at every rally the president held in Arizona.

The controversy is not contained to Arpaio and his crimes. The president is currently under investigation for obstruction of justice, which is being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller.

In May, President Trump fired FBI director James Comey, who had been conducting an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has made some indications that he is considering using the power of the pardon to delegitimize the outcome of Robert Mueller’s investigation. While Trump has not publicly made statements regarding whether or not he will pardon those criminalized as a result of the Mueller investigation, it has been reported that he has spoken privately to his advisors about his options surrounding the matter.

The Controversial Career of Sheriff Joe Arpaio  

For decades, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was an infamous figure in the world of Arizona law enforcement.

Arpaio’s career was defined by his strong stance on illegal immigration and his hardline approach to detention practices.

Trump has been a longtime friend and ally of Arpaio. Both figures were highly skeptical of President Obama’s birth place. On the presidential campaign trail in Arizona, Arpaio provided heavy support for the President’s strict approach to illegal immigration regarding the southern border.

This is the president’s first presidential pardon. During a rally in Phoenix, Trump claimed that “Sheriff Joe was convicted for doing his job.”

Arpaio faced sentencing on October 5 for criminal contempt after being ordered by a federal judge to halt policing practices of racial profiling and discrimination.

Representatives from across the political spectrum from House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to the American Civil Liberties Union have openly condemned the President’s decision to exercise the power of clemency. In the spring, Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions if the case against Arpaio could be dropped and Sessions advised against the decision citing it as inappropriate given the current political climate.

This was not the first time Arpaio’s name was embroiled in controversy surrounding his practices. While serving as a special agent in the DEA, fellow DEA agent Laura Garcia sued him for racial and sexual discrimination. The suit was later dropped.

As Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arpaio was inspired by the chief prosecutor of the county, Andrew Thomas’ successful campaign based on strict immigration policies. This became a cornerstone of Arpaio’s tenure as sheriff.

He claims that he has detained 51,000 illegal immigrants since 2007. Being a longtime believer in strict anti-immigration laws, Arpaio claimed that he felt responsible to enforce immigration laws since the federal government was not doing enough in his mind, despite the fact that immigration enforcement did not fall within his power of jurisdiction.

Early on, Arpaio developed the infamous Tent City- an open-air detention center designed with the intent to deter illegal immigrants. Inmates suffered under brutal conditions, including sweltering temperature reaching the 130s and an unappealing vegetarian gruel for meals.

In defense of the detention practices, Arpaio claimed the harsh conditions were a method of rehabilitation, creating an experience of which inmates would never want to return. Despite these goals, recidivism rates never decreased under Arpaio’s time in office.

Not only did Arpaio create brutal detention centers, but his policing practices were built upon racial discrimination, racial profiling and unlawful search and seizure practices.

Maricopa County has spent $50 million to defend itself against lawsuits brought on by victims of the unjust practices. A federal investigation into the Sheriff and his practices began in March 2009. Arpaio claims it was a political attack orchestrated by the Obama administration, but the investigation actually began in the later part of the Bush administration.

Ultimately, Arpaio was sued over racial profiling and violating the rights of immigrants, specifically Latinos, in the Maricopa County community through traffic patrols.

A federal judge ordered Sheriff Arpaio to halt the practices. Ignoring the court order, Arpaio continued to enforce immigration laws outside of the power given to him through his position. The repeated defiance of the order resulted in Arpaio’s July 31 conviction on the charge of contempt of court.

On August 28, President Trump claimed that his decision to pardon Arpaio was influenced by the hope of increased TV ratings as Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas; however, President Trump’s pardon places more pressure on the already strained relationship between the White House and the federal courts.

Correction: A previous entry misidentified the Office of the Pardon Attorney as a presidentially appointed position and Larry Kupers as the acting attorney general.

Comments are closed.