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Opinion
Noah Feldman

Arpaio Pardon Would Show Contempt for Constitution

And there would be only one remedy for Trump's disrespect: impeachment.
When a sheriff ignores the courts, he becomes a law unto himself.

When a sheriff ignores the courts, he becomes a law unto himself.

Photographer: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Corrected

If President Donald Trump pardons Joe Arpaio, as he broadly hinted at during a rally Tuesday in Arizona, it would not be an ordinary exercise of the power -- it would be an impeachable offense. Arpaio, the former sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, was convicted of criminal contempt of court for ignoring the federal judge’s order that he follow the U.S. Constitution in doing his job. For Trump to pardon him would be an assault on the federal judiciary, the Constitution and the rule of law itself.

To see why pardoning Arpaio would be so exceptional -- and so bad -- you have to start with the sheriff’s crime. Arpaio wasn’t convicted by a jury after a trial for violating some specific federal statute. Rather, he was convicted by a federal judge on the rather unusual charge of criminal contempt of court.