Sheriff Joe Arpaio: Pardoned, to the Detriment of Civil Rights
And the Rule of Law
As a category 4 hurricane – Harvey – barreled down on Texas, threatening some 8 million people with catastrophic flooding, Donald Trump decided to pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for his contempt of court conviction.
Sheriff Joe routinely violated the constitutional rights of Latinos by specifically targeting them for their skin color and presumed ethnicity during traffic stops and other raids throughout the Arizona county. Further, in a ruthless crackdown on illegal immigration that could only be successful by tossing constitutional rights aside, Arpaio illegally detained hundreds for presumed illegal immigration status (presumed because of skin color) and no other reason.
Of course, no distinguishing characteristic marks illegal immigrants; a presumption of illegality can only be gathered by race and racial profiling violates the Constitution.
And yet even after a 2011 court injunction ordered Arpaio to stop his holding “individuals solely on the belief they were in the country illegally” (requiring those held to be “accused of a state crime”), Arpaio continued his unconstitutional practice. Over the following 17 months, Arpaio’s office illegally detained (again, based only on skin color) and turned over to ICE 171 individuals, in “flagrant disregard” to the court’s order.
That led to a conviction for criminal contempt of court.
Our country cannot be about jailing individuals because of their skin color. That’s not who we are.
But it’s who Donald Trump is. While campaigning, he promised, at various times, to deport all illegal immigrants within two years. Again, on appearance, nothing differentiates an illegal immigrant from a legal immigrant. Without justifiable reason to detain someone (ie, a crime committed), they only means by which Trump could achieve his goals would be to indiscriminately round up all who look like illegal immigrants — that is, Latinos.
Obviously, that’s unconstitutional (law furthered by Melendres v. Arpaio), but it is reminiscent of Arpaio’s actions in Maricopa County. Trump sees a kindred spirit in Arpaio. The pardon reflects Trump’s harshest immigration rhetoric and clearly says to other corrupt actors: If you violate the Constitution by routinely using racial profiling and illegal detentions as a means of cracking down alleged illegal immigration, President Trump will offer his support, support that could culminate in a pardon.
Law and Order
That last point also runs in the face of Trump’s “law and order” campaign and presidential theme. Arpaio pointedly stated that “nobody is higher than me. I am the elected sheriff by the people.” Clearly, Arpaio thought his election elevated him to a position of being the law. He – not the courts – would declare which laws should be followed and, as sheriff, only he could enforce the laws. It necessarily follows that the law would not apply to him since no one had authority to apply it to him.
In no way does that align with a “law and order” pledge. “Law and order” must apply to everyone, including elected officials. The second it ceases to do so, authoritarianism can easily arise. Unrestrained officials can enforce and assert policies of their choosing without fear of legal retribution. People live in perpetual fear knowing that while laws apply to them, it does not apply to the enforcers – the enforcers would not be held accountable for any of their actions.
Trump seems to think government works in that outlined authoritarian fashion. He bristles at the Russia probe and has long-sought to undermine it through whatever means necessary, generally through obstruction of justice or assaults on the separation of power. It comes as little surprise, then, that a president with such disdain for the rule of law, despite his campaign rhetoric, would pardon someone with a similarly authoritarian political philosophy.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s pardon is yet another instance of Trump’s disregard for fundamental civil rights. He doesn’t believe that one’s race should not be a determining detention factor and he doesn’t think the rule of law should apply to elected officials (at least to those whose ideology aligns with Trump’s). This move undermines the rule of law and shows that Trump neither understands nor cares about American values.