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The Antelope

A pardon is NOT a power to be abused

Elliot Gonnella

Antelope staff

The presidential pardon is perhaps the most powerful tool the executive branch has in the judicial system, second only to the nomination of the Supreme Court judges. The Constitution says in Article 2, Section 2: “and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”

That is a broad definition of power for the president, which has led to many controversies. Some notable examples from the past include the following: Carter’s blanket amnesty in the form of a pardon to Vietnam draft dodgers, Ford pardoning Nixon, Clinton pardoning his younger brother and a key financier and Obama pardoning Chelsea Manning. They were well within their power to do those actions, but mentioning them can bring out strong opinions.

Not surprisingly, Trump’s first presidential pardon is now included amongst these. His first pardon was to the former sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was found guilty of criminal contempt. The despicable acts he committed in the employment of the state of Arizona are numerous and would take up their own editorial. Arpaio’s case could just be seen as another controversial pardon that would be a footnote for a chronicle of the year, but it isn’t.

Arpaio’s pardon stands out from the others for three main reasons.

First, the pardon happened while the former sheriff was awaiting sentencing. He had been convicted, but no sentence was leveled against him. Many who petition for a pardon, federal or state, have to wait many years before their appeal is even considered. This reinforces the idea that a pardon is given only to those who are connected.

Trump’s action of the pardon caused upset to a judicial system that tries hard to be fair and impartial. Imagine yourself in a similar situation, awaiting a pardon. You pay your dues to society for breaking the rules. You are genuinely apologetic to your actions, have kept good behavior and made an impact for the better. You are going through the necessary steps, and you learn someone who is friends with the sitting president/governor/member of the pardon board is given a pardon without serving a day in a cell.

I imagine the disenfranchisement would be overpowering.

Second, Arpaio’s pardon was announced early in Trump’s administration, during Hurricane Harvey’s landfall in Texas. Granted, most presidential pardons are done during the final days of office when the president is a ‘lame duck,’ so there is no way the action of the pardons could affect him or the party. Declaring Arpaio’s pardon this early in his presidency makes a statement.

The timing speaks to the gutlessness of the individual sitting in the Oval Office. The weak defense Trump offered, while the nation’s attention was turned to a natural disaster, shows the lack of accepting responsibility for issuing such an order. If this couldn’t be done while the eyes of the nation were upon him, what does that say of his character?

Third, this sets a dangerous precedence. Arpaio has not expressed any remorse for his actions.  If anything, he felt justified that his own personal views were above the Constitution he swore to uphold. Rather than being punished for breaking laws, he was rewarded with a pardon for his actions.

The tone set by this action is that Trump is pushing the checks and balances for the executive branch. He wants to enforce xenophobic policies. Since the legislative branch knows that it is political suicide to pander to a small but vocal minority, little action is being taken in the Senate. Even the laws that have been passed are constantly challenged and the judicial branch is reviewing those laws.

With the use of a pardon, Trump sends a clear message. He wants to enforce his brand of immigration control, and someone like Arpaio demonstrates affinity with Trump’s ideas.  It does not matter if Arpaio broke laws and ignored court orders to do what he wanted his way. This speaks to the true intentions of the individual living in the White House.

Trump pardoned a friend and spokesperson who thought himself above the law. Considering Trump has mentioned the possibility of pardoning his family and himself should the opportunity present itself. I imagine several more controversial pardons will be here soon.

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