Voters who want an end to presidential pardons may have found their champion in Kamala Harris. As the prospects of executive clemency for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio brightened with Donald Trump’s comments in Phoenix on Tuesday, the senator who may be Democrats’ top prospect for the 2020 nomination took to Twitter to oppose the idea of a pardon. Why? Because, don’t you know that Arpaio was convicted of committing a crime?
Joe Arpaio was convicted because he committed a crime. He should not be pardoned. https://t.co/YGvQkK6Kae
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) August 23, 2017
The most disturbing part of this tweet isn’t the fact that Harris seems to have missed the fact that people who haven’t been convicted of a crime don’t need a pardon at all. It’s not even that she served as Attorney General in California before being elected to the US Senate. It’s that seven times more people liked this than commented on it, but at least many of the comments pointed out the obvious fallacy of Harris’ argument.
A senator should understand that clemency involves mainly those who have transgressed, not those who have not. An Attorney General in any state would have been involved in those decisions, which raises questions as to just how engaged Harris was in her six years serving in that role for California. It’s not as if it never came up; Jerry Brown has been famously generous with pardons, issuing them by the dozens for holidays such as Easter or Christmas during Harris’ tenure. Did she object to Brown issuing pardons to convicts then?
There are good arguments for not granting Arpaio clemency, but this isn’t one of them. The best argument would be that Arpaio refused to abide by a lawful order of a court, and was correctly convicted of contempt for it. As a servant of the law, Arpaio has to abide by it too, and it sets a dangerous precedent to let a law-enforcement leader off the hook for defying the law. Arpaio’s supporters claim his long track record in serving the US as the mitigating factor for the pardon, but that’s true of any law-enforcement leader. Enforcing the law means recognizing lawful authority, even when one disagrees with a court.
Besides, if Trump wants to grant clemency, why not start with Kristian Saucier? His campaign explicitly made that case before Trump’s election. Saucier, unlike Arpaio, has shown remorse even while undergoing highly selective prosecution. Let’s start with Saucier and then have a conversation about Arpaio.