I have come to think of ex-Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio as a horrible human being, so I strongly objected to his pardon by President Donald Trump, which was done for political purposes and not in keeping with the intent of that power granted by the U.S. Constitution.
There was a day when I laughed about Arpaio housing inmates in outdoor tents during triple-digit heat and forcing them to wear pink underwear as a humiliation tactic.
Since I have become educated about the dehumanization of inmates in our jail and prison systems, I have become appalled that so many Americans support a man who strips away the dignity and self-esteem of men and women who can’t fight back.
Arpaio had been accused of prolonging border patrols for 17 months after a judge ordered them stopped. For years, he had enjoyed the notoriety of being known as the “bad ass sheriff” who went after illegal immigrants.
The sheriff acknowledged extending the patrols but blamed one of his former attorneys for not properly explaining the importance of the court order.
His office admitted to throwing away or shredding some traffic-stop records during controversial immigration patrols.
Lawyers in Trump’s Justice Department successfully prosecuted the case in a five-day trial this summer. Comments made by Arpaio in the media about keeping up the patrols even though he knew he wasn’t allowed played into his sentencing.
He downplayed being found guilty of “flagrant” contempt of court by calling his actions a “petty crime.” The criminal case against Arpaio sprang from a profiling lawsuit that ultimately discredited his handling of border security and is expected to cost taxpayers $92 million in the near future.
Thankfully, Arpaio’s bad behavior became controversial enough that he lost his 2016 re-election bid, which he blamed on then-President Barack Obama, whose administration announced just before the vote that it was willing to prosecute him.
It would have been interesting to see how Arpaio, 85, survived in jail with the people he had abused when he could no longer hide behind a badge and a gun. He would likely have ended up in protective custody with sex offenders and others who can’t survive the dangers of “general population,” which might also have been an enlightening experience.
Arpaio held everyone else to the highest level of the law, but explained away his own brutal behavior and misconduct as if he, as an exalted human being, was allowed to operate by different rules.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Arpaio spoke glowingly about Trump’s strong stance on immigration reform. Both men openly questioned the authenticity of Obama’s birth certificate and shared a similar history of squabbling with judges.
In turn, Trump rewarded Arpaio’s loyalty by wiping his record clean. That action reinforced the message that not all are equal under the rule of law, which is opposite of how this nation was founded.
The pardoning of Arpaio brings to light the flaw in presidential pardons: That they have increasingly been used for political gain. The power to pardon is virtually unqualified and intended to wipe away a conviction as if it had never happened when inmates have been sentenced too harshly, or the laws are unjust.
The president can also give a partial pardon, which downgrades the length of a sentence, or make a pardon conditional, such as not going into effect until court fines are paid.
Although some of the founders wanted pardons to be approved by the Senate, that measure was defeated in a Constitutional Convention.
I favor a check-and-balance on pardon power (if the Senate can actually make a decision) because its righteous purpose has been perverted too often during the past century.
For example, President Bill Clinton pardoned financial fugitive Marc Rich, who gave a $1 million donation to his re-election campaign.
Obama freed a known Puerto Rican bomb maker who helped orchestrate dozens of attacks in the United States and Army traitor Bradley (Chelsea) Manning, both to further identity politics, a useful tool to institute socialism.
— RaeLynn Ricarte
RaeLynn and I decided to discuss presidential pardons for this week's Crosstalk last Thursday. She suggested that the power granted by the U.S. Constitution was being used as a political tool that needed some constraints.
I said “I disagree,” which was enough to inspire a Crosstalk topic.
Now, I’m fine with constraints. The power to issue a pardon is a significant one that can over-ride all other branches of government.
But I was thinking of the pardons made by former President Barack Obama in the final months of his presidency, when he pardoned some of those Americans who had been unjustly trapped in the penitentiary system by our draconian “three strikes” and “minimum sentencing” laws.
Then, on Friday, President Donald Trump pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, sparing the controversial law enforcement official a jail sentence after he was convicted of criminal contempt related to his hard-line tactics for going after undocumented immigrants.
Trump's action proves both our points.
Arpaio built a career on showing off the various indignities he visited upon his prisoners.
He eliminated meat from their meals, bragged about the 120-plus degree summers that inmates spent in tents and reveled in the discomfort felt by his prisoners.
Arpaio made inmates wear pink underwear, and sleep on pink sheets, in what he described as his most memorable achievement: “Once you’re gone, you’re dead and buried,” Arpaio told the Washington Examiner in July. “Me, I give them 48 hours to remember me, and they’re going to do it because of the pink underwear.”
He can now add a presidential pardon to his noble list of accomplishments.
In pardoning Arpaio, Trump spared him the indignity of sweltering heat, meatless meals and pink underwear — had he been incarcerated as he incarcerated others. A sad injustice; he would have looked good in pink.
Arpaio, 85, faced up to six months in confinement.
Trump's action was clearly a political move, and the president will now have to face the political consequences: By issuing the pardon, he has condoned criminal mistreatment of inmates, with all the racial overtones of that mistreatment, and Americans will now have to decide if that is okay.
I can't imagine, outside of Arpaio's voting district, that such abuse would be tolerated.
Of course, Trump is not the first nor likely the last president to make political use of his ability to issue a pardon.
Former President Bill Clinton issued a number of questionable pardons, sparing several of his cronies prison time for his own self interest: But it is worth noting that his “first lady” then lost the primary election to then-Senator Barack Obama.
As has often been said, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
But I still believe removing the president's ability to issue pardons would be a mistake.
In 2016 and 2017, Obama issued a great many pardons. They did not include any abusive sheriffs or corporate political cheats that I can find.
They did include commutations of a lot of sentences from the misbegotten and failed drug war America has engaged in for so long, spending vast amounts of resources to target two-bit drug dealers and addicts.
I remember at the time hearing about the vetting and care taken in regards to these pardons: Issuing them was a risky move for the president to make simply because if a prisoner was set free only to commit new crimes, the political backlash would be tremendous.
Yet, in issuing the pardons, Obama gave a great many good people a fresh start at a new life, and righted at least a few of the wrongs found in our justice system, and in our jails and prisons.
To constrain or remove the ability of a president to issue pardons would be to steal a prisoner's hope, admittedly slim, of receiving a pardon and living as a free person despite his or her mistakes in the past. In short, when a president of either party uses his or her power not to rectify injustice but to grant favors, consolidate power, avoid prosecution or simply solidify their political base, both Congress and voters have a perfectly good way to stop such abuse: Replace the president.
— Mark Gibson