Throughout our history, the President’s pardon power has been used with various degrees of wisdom, but rarely if ever to bless a law enforcement officer’s blatant violation of Americans’ constitutional rights. With President Trump’s pardon of former sheriff Joe Arpaio, we find ourselves in precisely that situation. Arpaio was found guilty of flagrantly disregarding court orders to stop violating Americans’ Constitutional rights, and Trump’s own words — “convicted for doing his job,” for example — leave little doubt that the President was attempting to bless the rights violations Arpaio egregiously engaged in, opening the door for other law enforcement officials to do the same.
It is often claimed casually that the Preaident’s pardon power is “unlimited,” or in President Trump’s words, “complete.” This is dangerous and wrong. Few would argue that the pardon power allows the President to suspend the Bill of Rights by simply promising to pardon all who violate the rights of their fellow citizens. From a President who has routinely sought to delegitimize the Judiciary, this pardon marks a significant attack on America’s judicial independence as well.
As Arpaio asks the court to vacate his conviction altogether, Protect Democracy and Free Speech for People have written to DOJ — whose regular processes for pardons were tossed aside in this case — to urge them to oppose his request, and to recognize the Constitutional threat that the pardon represents.