Trump sets tone with unpopular presidential pardon

Caldwell Harden, Contributing Writer

President Trump made headlines Aug. 25th when he made the controversial decision of pardoning former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. The month prior, a federal judge found Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt for ignoring a court-issued order demanding an end to the detainment of individuals his staff believed were in the country illegally, based upon racial profiling techniques.

Trump likely set the tone with his unpopular pardon because Arpaio spoke early and often in support of Trump, especially during his campaign. While critics found the president’s pardon troubling for a number of reasons, presidential pardons are not a new concept. But the way Trump is approaching them is.

Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution says the president “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” I believe that the Founding Fathers intended for the presidential pardon to be used in the case of the criminal justice system failing its citizens or to help restore order.

It is not unusual for presidents to grant pardons, but they typically wait until the last months of their presidency to grant high-profile pardons. President Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, who was on the run for committing tax evasion and President George H.W. Bush pardoned a defense secretary for his actions in the Iran-Contra affair.

Pardons usually occur after someone has already been sentenced or served time and can wait for years to receive a pardon. Arpaio had yet to be sentenced and at most would have served six months in jail. While it is hard to predict if this pardon will be a good indicator of Arpaio’s future behavior, already there have been discussions of how to stop the president from abusing his ability to pardon.

All of this raises the question: are pardons being used in a manner that is consistent with how the Founding Fathers intended? By pardoning Arpaio, Trump demonstrated his distrust of the justice system, thus illustrating that he did not think Arpaio was guilty of racial profiling. Only time will tell if this pardon will be the start of a new precedent, one in which Trump allies are not held accountable.

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