Donald Trump may have the power to alter history by pardoning former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, but he can’t also retroactively efface that history. I mean, in this particular case he can’t, according to a judge.
On Thursday, US District Court Judge Susan Bolton rejected arguments made by Arpaio’s lawyer and the Justice Department insisting that all the rulings in Arpaio’s case should be nullified. The ruling for which Arpaio was pardoned in August found him guilty of criminal contempt of court for ignoring a court’s order to have his department stop profiling Latinos. Arpaio had yet to be sentenced when Trump pardoned him, but was facing up to six months in prison.
Judge Bolton wrote in her opinion on Thursday:
“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. The President issued the pardon. Defendant accepted. The pardon undoubtedly spared Defendant from any punishment that might otherwise have been imposed. It did not, however, ‘revise the historical facts’ of this case.”
Politico reports that some Democratic lawmakers and ethics groups had previously tried to persuade Judge Bolton to reject the presidential pardon entirely, but instead she ruled on October 4 that Trump’s pardon constituted the end of Arpaio’s prosecution for criminal contempt of court.
Which is not to say the judge’s ruling today won’t necessarily yield a material victory for those who despise Arpaio (hi), and not just a symbolic one. So long as the conviction stays on the record it can be used in a future criminal or civil case, and can’t technically be appealed, since the former sheriff was pardoned, according to the Arizona Daily Star.