Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: With Arpaio pardon, Trump sides with bigots ... again


President Trump has pardoned former Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been found guilty in a federal court of repeatedly, publicly and systematically violating the Fourth Amendment, then repeatedly, publicly and systematically ignoring court orders to cease.

The Fourth Amendment, just to remind you, protects individuals against unreasonable search and seizures by their government. It is one of our foundation stones of American freedom. However, if you looked like a Latino to Arpaio, you did not have Fourth Amendment rights. You did not have the freedom that the Constitution guaranteed to other Americans, and were assumed to be an illegal immigrant. Arpaio and his officers would stop you in your car or on the street or even roust you from your home, arrest you and jail you with no probable cause and no criminal charge other than your ethnicity.

Time and again the courts told Arpaio to stop. Time and again, Arpaio refused. In his mind he was not only above the law, he WAS the law. He even said so, publicly. When reminded that even he had to obey the Constitution and the federal courts, Arpaio disagreed.

“No,” he said. “Nobody is higher than me. I am the elected sheriff by the people. I don’t serve any governor or the president.”

Citing those and many other comments, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton last month found Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt, ruling that he had shown "flagrant disregard" for the law.

"Not only did Defendant abdicate responsibility, he announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise," Bolton found.

And of course, racial profiling was far from Arpaio's only abuse of office. To cite another example, he once sent officers in the middle of the night to the homes of two reporters who had written critically of him, arresting  and jailing them on trumped-up charges. Maricopa County had to pay $3.75 million to settle that case.  He also initiated and staged an elaborate assassination attempt against himself, forcing the county to pay millions more to the man he had entrapped in that publicity stunt. I've never seen a total for the taxpayer money paid out to settle lawsuits caused by Arpaio, but it's well over $50 million and may approach twice that.

(UPDATE: Further research reveals that I vastly underestimated Arpaio's financial impact. Maricopa County has had to pay more than $140 million in damages just to settle brutality cases in its jails under Arpaio's supervision, where more than 160 inmates have died.)

Through it all, Arpaio has never shown a bit of contrition.

By praising Arpaio's actions even while pardoning him, while never once acknowledging his crimes, Trump has embraced the lawlessness, the abuse of government power and the bigotry that Arpaio exemplified. Coming after Trump's own remarks about Charlottesville, his past comments about Mexicans, his claim that an American judge of Mexican descent could not handle his federal fraud case, etc., it further cements Trump's record as a politician willing to appeal to the worst in America to undermine what is best about it.

Apparently, he may also soon order the resumption of deportations of the so-called Dreamers, young people who have been brought here illegally as children, who have lived here almost all of their lives, who have educated themselves and have jobs and who have known no other country.  He once promised to treat them with "great heart," but in his increasing bitterness and anger, he may make them his victims instead.

By the way, this was Trump one year ago today:


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.