Laurence H. Tribe and Ron Fein write: A federal judge in Arizona will soon consider whether to overturn President Trump’s pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. The answer to this question has consequences not just for Arpaio and the people he hurt but also for the entire country. And although the conventional legal wisdom has been that a presidential decision to grant a pardon is unreviewable, that is wrong. In this circumstance, Trump’s decision to pardon Arpaio was unconstitutional and should be overturned.
For more than 20 years, Arpaio ran the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office with shocking cruelty and lawlessness, especially against Latinos. In 2011, a federal judge issued an injunction in a lawsuit challenging the practice of detaining and searching people for, in essence, driving while Latino. The judge found evidence that the sheriff’s office engaged in racial profiling and stopped Latinos just to determine their immigration status. He ordered it to cease detaining people without reasonable suspicion of a crime.
Arpaio flagrantly ignored the injunction, and in May 2016, the judge found him to be in civil contempt of court. In July, a second federal judge found him in criminal contempt, which can be punished by imprisonment. Three weeks later, Trump pardoned Arpaio. Trump’s Justice Department argues that is the end of the matter, but many constitutional law scholars and advocates disagree. The judge has scheduled an Oct. 4 hearing and ordered further briefing.
To understand why Trump’s pardon of Arpaio is so dangerous, step back to 1962, when a federal court ordered the all-white University of Mississippi to admit African American James Meredith. When the Mississippi governor refused to comply, the court directed the Justice Department to prosecute him for criminal contempt of court.
At the time, many anti-integration governors vowed “massive resistance” to court-ordered desegregation. The legal struggle against segregation relied on the power of court orders — enforceable by imprisonment for contempt.
Now imagine a president such as Trump pardoning the governor for contempt, while praising him, as Trump lauded Arpaio, for “doing his job.”
The message to segregationist officials would have been clear: just ignore federal court integration orders; the president will have your back if the court tries to enforce them through its contempt power. [Continue reading…]