2017-09-13 / Letters

Power of pardon

Dear Editor:

Sometimes it seems like the Hatfields and McCoys are at it again, but now it’s the Republican and Democratic parties jousting. The two teams are playing the grand game of democracy-in-action. The U.S. Constitution has set the rules of the game; it is our big boss. The umpire is the federal judiciary, which calls balls and strikes. But, darn it, the Constitution has to be interpreted. The umpires sometimes make mistakes, and sometimes the elected officials don’t like their calls.

A recent example illustrates the controversy that often arises when the elected officials and the judiciary disagree over a decision. The President of the U.S. “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” Thus sayeth the Constitution. President Trump pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona for his citation for criminal contempt of a federal court order to cease and desist stopping people who have not committed a crime to check their immigration status.

There has been a public outcry about the justification for the pardon. Critics argue that the power of criminal contempt is so essential to the effective existence of civil judicial power that allowing an executive act, like a pardon, to interfere may violate the separation of powers doctrine. Defenders of the pardon insist that presidential power is unlimited, and that there are plenty of precedents for this presidential action.

Every president has issued pardons and some of them are for political reasons. Some of them seem highly questionable, such as this pardon and Arpaio, but this is the system we live under. The Constitution has granted the president this power, and the question is whether it is unlimited or not. We may find out more about that as the legal issues are debated.

We have, at hand, the ingredients of a potential constitutional crisis. The pardon power of a president only extends to crimes against the United States. Judge Susan Bolton, of the U.S. District Court of Arizona considering this matter, could decide that, event if criminal contempt of court is a crime, it is not a crime, strictly speaking, against the United States, as meant in the Constitution, but instead constitutes an offense only against the civil enforcement powers of the judiciary.

The question is: will Arpaio walk?

Leila Ryland Swain

Sleepy Creek

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very interesting aspect

very interesting aspect this raises