“I’ll make a prediction: I think he’s going to be just fine,” President Trump announced to a room of his supporters in Phoenix, indicating his intention to pardon former sheriff Joe Arpaio of a recently acquired criminal contempt conviction. Arpaio, an 85-year old resident of Maricopa County, was found guilty of violating a 2011 court order from a federal judge to cease profiling and detaining suspected illegal immigrants, essentially prohibiting him from enforcing federal immigration laws in Maricopa County.
Unsurprisingly, the President’s decision caused outrage from congressional Democrats, perceiving this as another setback to progress. “As millions of people in TX and LA are prepping for the Hurricane, the President is using the cover of the storm to pardon a man who violated a court’s order to stop discriminating against Latinos,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted.
Regardless, Trump’s decision was not an abuse of power. In Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, it states that the President “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”
Contention surrounds President Trump’s failure to consult the Justice Department’s Office of Pardon Attorney, an executive provider of clemency guidelines. According to Carrie Johnson of NPR, the Office states one should not “apply for clemency until five years after their conviction or sentencing.”
The lengthy process, let alone the consultation, is not a constitutionally required provision. It can be surpassed by presidents to facilitate a pardon. Neither is it applicable to Arpaio’s case: a misdemeanor offence with a sentence of 6-months for which the former sheriff made no clemency request.
There are also several issues with the court’s handling of this case. Most significantly, Arpaio’s request for a jury was denied to him by Judge Snow, justified by a 1970 supreme court decision, Baldwin v. New York, which arrived at an exception for crimes without potential for sentencing greater than 6 months. Nevertheless, according to Robert Robb of The Republic, its ruling was decided by “three of eight justices,” informing the current standard with an abnormally derived verdict.
Another arises in the implications of his conviction. While some argue the President’s pardon of Arpaio sets a precedent for executive authority to subvert the rule of law, the precedent set by tolerance of certain crimes through denying law enforcement the authority to respond to them is a significant concern.
The judiciary’s role is to interpret the law. Nevertheless, when the judiciary interprets the law in a fashion that inhibits its enforcement, the president should be able to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” by ensuring those who enforce them aren’t prosecuted.
Arpaio took uncommon initiative by enforcing immigration laws that the federal government failed to uphold. Rather than accepting the order to compromise his duty, he risked his welfare and reputation at large for the safety of his county.
Citizens trust immigration laws will be enforced. When law enforcement is prohibited from delivering on that promise, these laws are reduced to mere suggestions.
Sean Hyaduck is a sophomore studying the liberal arts.