As a practicing attorney with over 40 years of experience, I am deeply concerned about President Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio, the former Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. Mr. Arpaio was subject to fair legal process with competent counsel. He was found in contempt of court with respect to an order to stop racial profiling. He had not exhausted his appeals of this conviction. There is no allegation that he suffered judicial injustice or breach of legal process. Yet, the President intervened on facially political grounds to interrupt this legal process and pardon Mr. Arpaio.
As a lawyer, I write to emphasize that this pardon appears to undermine our rule of law, the very foundation of our government. We are a nation governed by legal process and principles that uphold the fundamentals of our Republic, regardless of changes in political office holders. Our law applies to everyone, including those like Mr. Arpaio charged with enforcing the law. Our legal principles apply to all as well, even to our Chief Executive.
In our system of governance, respect for the judiciary is a keystone to all other aspects of the rule of law. Court orders are the “law.” Contempt sanctions are the only mechanism available to ensure the integrity of court orders. If compliance with court orders is subject to political override, the rule of law is at risk. To undermine our courts, and their integrity, in our legal process is to compromise our rule of law and our ability to hold our nation together.
I cannot imagine a clearer case of defiance of the rule of law. Mr. Arpaio placed himself above the law in his campaign of racial profiling. The federal judiciary told him to stop and he, through his actions, told the federal judiciary that he would continue his conduct. He effectively said that he, as the law enforcer, could also determine what the law was. There is no more direct affront to our tri-partite republican form of governance than this.