Commentary

Donald Trump gained notoriety in right-wing circles back in 2011 by fanning the embers of the dying birther movement, a group of conspiracy theorists who made up stories that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the US. Trump set off a chain of events that eventually led to Sheriff Joe Arpaio of the Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff’s Office assigning an investigation of Obama’s birth certificate to a totally inept, unqualified and biased volunteer posse, who several times came out with reports saying that the certificate was a fake before their pseudo-expert opinions fell apart under scrutiny.

Arpaio, however, was known for much more than being a birther. His main claim to fame came from acting out the self-proclaimed role of  “America’s toughest sheriff,” something that played out in mistreatment of prisoners, trumped-up charges and arrests of political opponents, and the big one–racial profiling. All in all, Maricopa County paid out several tens of millions of dollars in settlements for wrongful deaths in its jails, false arrest, and racial profiling. The sheriff’s office was placed under a court-appointed monitor. Evidence came to light that Arpaio intentionally disobeyed court orders and that led to his recent conviction for criminal contempt of court.

Now President Trump has pardoned his unrepentant supporter and birther protege. Trump is signaling that any illegality carrying out his agenda by his supporters is now above the law. This is a serious abuse of the presidential pardon, but President Trump has shown almost daily that he has no respect for the office he holds.

The US Supreme Court decided in the last century that the president’s pardon power extends to criminal contempt of court. For a scholarly article article on the topic, see “Contempt and Executive Power to Pardon” by by Paul M. Butler in Notre Dame Law Review (548) 1929.