When Donald Trump handed down a pardon to his racist criminal pal, disgraced Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, it stands to reason he assumed it would wipe away the entire case that was decided by that mean old liberal judge (who was nominated by Republican John Kyl and installed by the very centrist Bill Clinton).
Sheriff Joe clearly thought so, although his obsession with the notably black Barack Obama certainly clouded his judgment about who was responsible for his predicament:
Thank you @realdonaldtrump for seeing my conviction for what it is: a political witch hunt by holdovers in the Obama justice department!
— Joe Arpaio (@RealSheriffJoe) August 26, 2017
But after the pardon, the aging white supremacist petitioned the court to clear the conviction entirely, so that it might not be used against him in the future. That’s where Judge Susan Bolton decided to draw the line. She issued a ruling against Arpaio on Thursday, saying, in essence, that all a presidential pardon does is excuse someone from punishment. It doesn’t make it as though a crime never occurred. From the order:
The power to pardon is an executive prerogative of mercy, not of judicial recordkeeping. To vacate all rulings in this case would run afoul of this important distinction. The Court found Defendant guilty of criminal contempt.”
Having been found guilty of criminal contempt, the prior order (that he was in contempt of) which stated that Arpaio refused to stop racially profiling suspects in his jurisdiction stands as well. That means Joe Arpaio has in effect been found guilty in court of using his authority to conduct racist, unconstitutional arrests, rather than simply the criminal contempt for which he was convicted.
In case you’re still not picking up what I’m throwing down, that means Joe Arpaio can now be sued.
Ironically, it may have been Trump, in his eagerness to flex his presidential muscles, who screwed this all up for Sheriff Joe. He was scheduled to be sentenced in October — at which point Judge Bolton would have entered a “final judgment” — but his best pal the Racist-in-Chief couldn’t wait that long. He pardoned him back in August, while Trump was still reveling in the outrage of Many Sides Weekend 2.0™.
Because the pardon was premature and no judgment had been entered, there was no protocol for simply “vacating” the conviction. Judge Bolton decided that the government had not provided or pointed out any precedent for doing so. In fact, during deliberation as to whether she would toss the conviction back in September, Bolton cited a Supreme Court case in which the precedent seemed to be laid out:
The granting of a pardon is in no sense an overturning of a judgment of conviction by some other tribunal, it is an executive action that mitigates or sets aside punishment for a crime.”
Boy, is Trump gonna be pissed when he reads this news.
Featured image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images