House Democrats and a nonpartisan legal advocacy group are both pushing the federal government to challenge President Donald Trump's pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted last month of flouting a judge's order to end his practice of racially profiling Latinos.
Trump announced last week that he would pardon Arpaio, who was one of the president's biggest supporters on the campaign trail and who faced a maximum penalty of six months in jail for contempt of court.
Over Arpaio's 24-year career as sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, he frequently detained Latinos under the suspicion that they were undocumented immigrants, with no evidence that they had committed any crimes, and established a detention center called Tent City, which he compared favorably to a Nazi concentration camp.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and 16 other House Democrats sent a letter Wednesday to Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, asking him to a call a hearing on the pardon, which they called "a gross injustice."
"The pardon sends an unequivocal message that institutionalized racial profiling as practiced by Sheriff Arpaio is acceptable," the representatives wrote. "The pardon is disrespectful to the rule of law in general and to the federal courts in particular; and the president issued the pardon in complete absence of any advisory role by the Department of Justice."
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While presidents do have the power to issue pardons, the letter notes that Trump ignored "DOJ policy calling for a waiting period of five years or more before considering a pardon application," and did not issue the pardon through the Pardon Attorney at the Justice Department, as has been done by presidents for 125 years.
Meanwhile, the group United to Protect Democracy, formed by a group of former White House lawyers to "monitor, investigate, report on, organize, and litigate against" illegal actions taken by the Executive Branch, sent a letter to the Justice Department's Criminal Division on Tuesday, asking the office to oppose Arpaio's motion to dismiss his conviction following his pardon, noting:
President Trump has not issued a pardon after an acknowledgement by Arpaio (or Trump) of his guilt in the matter, as is the case with most pardons. Rather, President Trump has made clear that he believes Arpaio should never have followed the court’s order to begin with, and was right to ignore it. That factual context raises grave questions about this pardon’s potential to lead to other due process violations.
Arpaio's ability to have his conviction dismissed following the pardon has also been met with scrutiny by the Arizona judge who was set to sentence him in October. The Arizona Republic reported on Tuesday that U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton cancelled his sentencing hearing, but "stopped short of throwing out the conviction based solely on Arpaio's request. Instead she ordered Arpaio and the U.S. Department of Justice, which is prosecuting the case, to file briefs on why she should or shouldn't grant Arpaio's request."