During Tuesday’s rally, also known as the latest stop on his “I Will Die Without Attention” tour, President Trump spoke to a crowd of (significantly fewer than the 15,000 he claimed) supporters. The speech was, predictably, batshit insane; the only reason Trump holds these rallies is to bask in the adulation of the dwindling number of people still willing to clap and cheer for everything he says.
Most of the time, Trump’s rallies are meaningless; he gets on stage, complains about the media, talks about his election victory, and reaches back into the vault for some of his campaign-trail greatest hits (“Build That Wall” b/w “Fake News,” for example). But on Tuesday, Trump debuted a new tune: a forthcoming presidential pardon of disgraced former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Trump briefly danced around it with all the subtlety of a gorilla on a snowboard, eventually saying “I’ll make a prediction. I think he’s going to be just fine, OK?” Like most everything else Trump says, this was nonsense: it’s not a “prediction” if you’re the one making the decision.
At any rate, we’ll discuss the merits of a potential pardon in a moment, but first, let’s review how it came to pass that Sheriffin’ Joe ended up in a position to receive one.
Arpaio is, in short, the inevitable outcome of the “soft on crime” argument. The self-proclaimed “America’s Toughest Sheriff” has taken it upon himself to institute practices in his jails that are, in his view, an effective deterrent to crime; however, his critics (and they are legion) have decried his jailing practices as unconstitutional and inhumane. There are too many examples to list here, but here’s a quick sampling:
- Arpaio established a “Tent City” next to the Maricopa County Jail; during the summer, temperatures in the tents have reached as high as 150°F. When inmates complained, Arpaio gave them permission to wear only their prison-issued pink underwear to stay cool.
- Yes, Arpaio issues pink underwear to the inmates. As news of this sartorial edict gained steam, Arpaio saw an opportunity to make a quick buck and started selling pink boxers on the Maricopa County Sheriff’s website. To date, Arpaio has yet to provide an accounting of the proceeds from sales of the novelty underwear.
- Arpaio set up a “Jail Cam”; according to the New York Times, Jail Cam “lets visitors view detainees being led into the jail in handcuffs, being fingerprinted and booked and being taken to holding cells.” This is possibly a violation of detainees’ Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, to say nothing of their right to avoid being tried in the court of public opinion before, you know, in the actual courts.
- Arpaio has also served rotten food in his jails and limited inmates to two meals a day.
As if jail itself isn’t bad enough, Arpaio deems it necessary to make the experience as dehumanizing as possible. Many have argued that Arpaio’s practices serve as a deterrent to crime, but there are two problems with that line of thinking. First, jail is a sufficient deterrent to crime; a 2015 study found that two out of every three people who serve time in prison never return, and only one out of every nine people go back multiple times.
Furthermore, research has shown that harsher prison conditions do nothing to lower the rate of recidivism (that is, being arrested for a new crime or having your parole revoked for a violation); in fact, harsher prison conditions might even raise recidivism rates. From the linked report: “Our findings suggest that harsher prison conditions do not reduce post-release criminal behavior, and may even increase it.”
A report by the Goldwater Institute found that up to 75% of the cases that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office marked as “solved” were done so without an arrest or a proper investigation. In other words, Arpaio tried to make himself appear tough on crime by punching down on those already convicted, rather than, you know, solving crimes.
The list goes on and on, and I haven’t even touched on the unconstitutional stop-and-search and racial profiling practices employed by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office under Arpaio. By any metric, Joe Arpaio was a horrible Sheriff. But being bad at your job is not technically a crime. What is a crime, however, is ignoring a court order, and that’s precisely what Arpaio did.
Arpaio ignored a court order to cease the practice of singling out drivers his officers believed were in the country illegally and detaining them without filing any charges (a violation of yet another Constitutional Amendment: the Fourth). To borrow a phrase from Mitch McConnell: He was warned, he was given an explanation. Nevertheless, he persisted.
And as a result, Arpaio was found guilty of civil contempt of court, an offense that carries with it a 6-month jail sentence. For his part, Arpaio contends that he was a victim of “abuse of the political and justice system,” and during an interview with Sean Hannity, Arpaio complained that “if they can go after me, they can go after anyone in this country.”
This, of course, is the entire point of having laws: they apply to everyone, including and especially those responsible for upholding them. Arpaio’s belief that he is exempt from the law only lends further credence to the idea that he viewed his prisoners as subhuman (and treated them accordingly).
Which brings me to my point: Joe Arpaio doesn’t deserve a pardon.
According to the Office of the Pardon Attorney of the United States government:
The merit of the petitioner’s application is assessed by considering the standards described in Section 1-2.112 of the United States Attorneys’ Manual […] These standards include the applicant’s post-conviction conduct, character and reputation; the seriousness and relative recentness of the offense; the applicant’s acceptance of responsibility, remorse, and atonement; and the applicant’s need for relief.
The OPA also notes that individuals are ineligible to apply for a presidential pardon for a minimum of five years; considering Arpaio’s sentence is only 6 months, under normal circumstances he would have to serve his time, then wait 5 years after his release to submit a pardon request. But “normal circumstances” don’t apply when it comes to Trump, whose love for shithead cops who kiss his ass is surpassed only by his love for himself.
Arpaio is attempting to frame his conviction as an overzealous justice system running roughshod over his rights as Maricopa County Sheriff, but that’s a willful misrepresentation of the events that actually took place. Leaving aside the debate over the efficacy of his tactics, he was ordered by a federal judge to end his practices. Not only did he ignore the order, he publicly bragged about doing so.
Given that he was only convicted last year, the OPA normally wouldn’t even consider a pardon request, since Arpaio has not exhausted all of the options available to him in the appeals process. Moreover, Arpaio does not need relief — he just wants to avoid facing the consequences for his actions.
To top it all off, Arpaio has shown absolutely no remorse for his actions; in fact, he has defiantly maintained that he did the right thing by ignoring a federal court order. Arpaio has, in essence, taken the law into his own hands.
Whether you agree with his practices or you find them abhorrent, the law is clear, and Joe Arpaio willfully and intentionally broke it. And despite President Trump’s incessant wailing about law & order and getting tough on crime, he’s still willing to let Arpaio off the hook for no other reason than “We’re buddies.” That should tell you all you need to know about how much Trump really respects the law of the land.