Then there is the large and more basic question of the purpose behind a grant. It does make a difference why a president grants a pardon. It is an act for which he or she is accountable under the Constitution: As Justice Holmes stated almost a century ago in Biddle v. Perovich, the pardon power is “part of the constitutional scheme,” to be exercised in the advancement of the “public welfare. Or as Alexander Hamilton argued it in Federalist No, 74, it is a “benign prerogative” in the interests of the “tranquility of the commonwealth.” Like all of a president’s actions, its use is subject to the overall commitments entailed in his oath of office. Hamilton assured his Federalist readers that the individual occupying the Office of the President could be trusted to act on this extraordinary authority with a “sense of responsibility” marked by “scrupulousness and caution,” “prudence and good sense,” and “circumspection.”
In the case at hand, Trump would be pardoning a political ally who quite deliberately brought his legal problems on himself — and did so as a law enforcement officer. The President has already made a political issue, indeed a political spectacle, of this — perhaps to placate his restive, angry Bannonite critics. There is no better evidence than his decision to feature the possible pardon at a political rally. When Trump asked, “Do people in this room like Sheriff Joe,” he was quite explicit about the very defined political audience for the pardon — the “people in this room.” He paid little heed to the seriousness of the matter in declaring that Sheriff Joe was “convicted for doing his job.” That, of course, was not the reason that Arpaio was convicted, and it is beneath the dignity of the country’s Chief Executive to yet again demean and ridicule a court in this fashion. On this occasion, he is also scorning the judiciary for a ruling in a case brought by his own prosecutors.
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