Congressman Nadler Joins Members Filing Amicus Brief Opposing Sheriff Arpaio’s Motion To Vacate His Conviction Following President Trump’s Pardon

Sep 27, 2017 Issues: Civil Liberties, Civil Rights

Washington, D.C. – Today, Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, joined with House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice Ranking Member Steve Cohen (D-TN), Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law Ranking Member David Cicilline (D-RI), Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA), and other Members of Congress, filed an amicus brief opposing Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s motion to vacate his conviction for criminal contempt of court on the ground that President Donald Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Arpaio was unconstitutional.

In 2011, a Federal court found that Sheriff Arpaio's police department routinely engaged in racial profiling of Latinos.  The court ordered the department to cease its unconstitutional practices immediately, but Sheriff Arpaio and the department flouted the court's order, and continued to direct their staff to deprive thousands of people of their constitutional rights.  This past July, Sheriff Arpaio was held in criminal contempt of court for repeatedly and blatantly ignoring the court’s injunction against him.  Just three weeks later, however, President Trump pardoned his contempt conviction.

The Members released the following statement:

“The President's pardon of Sheriff Arpaio was not just disgraceful, but also represented what we believe to be an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers.  As our brief argues, it is essential to the independence of the judiciary that courts be able to enforce compliance with their orders through the contempt power, especially those orders that protect the constitutional rights of private parties.  By pardoning Sheriff Arpaio, the President threatened this fundamental judicial power.  Furthermore, if the President’s pardon is allowed to stand, this case could have severe implications for Congress’s ability to compel compliance with its own investigations and orders.

“President Trump’s pardon was not intended to remedy an unduly harsh criminal punishment, or to correct a mistake in the enforcement of the criminal law—the intended purpose of the power—but to usurp the power of the judiciary to vindicate the authority of the courts and to uphold the rule of law.  Despite common misconceptions, the pardon power is not absolute.  As Laurence Tribe, one of the nation’s leading constitutional scholars, explained, ‘when the Constitution says that the president ‘shall have power,’ that does not mean unlimited power.  It means power that is not inconsistent with other parts of the Constitution.’  In this case, the pardon power was used to upset the careful balance of power among the branches of government, and to undermine the rule of law.

“We agree with Professor Tribe and with numerous other scholars and commentators that the President’s pardon of Sheriff Arpaio was unconstitutional and, therefore, ask the court to deny Sheriff Arpaio’s motion to vacate his conviction.”

A copy of the brief is available here.