One More Divisive Act: Say No to Trump's Pardon of Sheriff Joe

While television focused on the dramatic pictures of Hurricane Harvey, President Trump took a step to unravel the American constitutional rule of law by pardoning former-Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Trump freed an unrepentant, renegade law enforcement officer who had been convicted of criminal contempt of court for persisting in a campaign of legal harassment of Latinos. With this action, Trump announced that he will not be constrained by the law or the courts.

Joe Arpaio was Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona (including Phoenix) for 24 years. In a non-stop media campaign he styled himself “the toughest sheriff in America”. Arpaio was the relentless enemy of the Latino community, the creator of a mass detention facility that he himself characterized as a concentration camp, and a negligent and callous law enforcement officer. Under his supervision, at least 160 prisoners committed suicide; far more than in any other jurisdiction during a comparable period of time. Among the hundreds of individuals incarcerated, abused and tortured by Arpaio’s department was one woman who was forced to give birth in shackles. At the same time, his department refused to investigate hundreds of cases of sexual abuse – many of them Latino children.  Arpaio’s disregard of the health, safety and rights of the people in his charge cost the taxpayers of Maricopa County more than $140 million in legal settlements over the years.

His career as sheriff came to an end when he was voted out of office in November 2016. In May 2017 he was convicted, first of civil contempt for disregarding court orders to stop racially profiling Latinos and then, in July, of criminal contempt of court for related violations of court directives. Arpaio and the Sheriff’s department that he led repeatedly broke the laws he was charged to uphold.

In pardoning Joe Arpaio President Trump has taken a public step towards creating an autocratic regime beyond the reach of our democratic institutions.  If court sanctions against those who refuse to follow judicial directives are overturned by presidential pardons, then the checks and balances of our constitutional democracy are meaningless.

After Charlottesville, Trump caused a bipartisan public outcry when he drew a false equivalence between neo-Nazi’s, KKK members and alt right demonstrators who espouse white nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism and the protesters who gathered to oppose them. Now, Trump’s pardon of a law enforcement officer who openly defied court orders is a clear signal that rogue elements of our police and public safety institutions are safe from prosecution so long as they are carrying out Trump’s anti-mmigrant agenda.

Closely related to his abuse of the power to pardon is Trump’s open hostility to Robert Mueller’s independent counsel investigation into Russian manipulation during the 2016 election. The Arpaio pardon and the firing of James Comey can be understood as part of an ongoing effort to use the powers of the Presidency to obstruct justice.

While Trump’s power to pardon Arpaio may be upheld by the courts, it is crucial to know that in debates over the ratification of the Constitution founders James Madison and George Mason indicated that abuse of the pardon power would be an impeachable offense.  In pardoning the criminal and unrepentant Arpaio, the president has crossed that line.

Call To Action

  1. Call your Senators and Representatives of both parties. Tell them that the pardon of Joe Arpaio is a violation of the spirit of the Constitutional protections of due process and equal protection under the law. Moreover, because of Arpaio’s history of antagonism to the Latino population and his willful defiance of court orders demanding he cease racial profiling, the pardon must be viewed as a racial and ethnic insult. In short, the pardon is unacceptable. Ask your senators and representatives to speak out against this outrageous political abuse. 
  2. Ask your Senators and Representatives to pass legislation removing Robert Mueller’s independent counsel office from oversight by Trump’s Justice Department. The office must be made truly independent of political manipulation and protected from Trump’s potential efforts to further obstruct justice.

This Week's Limerick

Trump has taken some pretty uuuuuge action
While a hurricane served as distraction
Sheriff Joe sprung the trap
Trans folks got one more slap
Quite the coup for the prejudiced faction