VERIFY: Can a federal judge vacate Joe Arpaio's pardon?

Democratic Congress members have filed an amicus brief calling on the federal judge in Joe Arpaio's contempt case to ignore the former sheriff's pardon.

PHOENIX - Three dozen Democratic members of Congress are now calling on the federal judge in Joe Arpaio’s contempt case to essentially ignore the pardon of the former Maricopa County sheriff.

The lawmakers filed an amicus brief with the court. An amicus brief means it’s being proposed by a “friend of the court,” someone not directly related to the case.

These Democratic Congress members are arguing that Trump knowingly upended the authority of the court by pardoning someone who disobeyed court orders. The lawmakers say that the pardon compromises the independence of the entire judicial branch of government.

The request filed in court Wednesday actually contains two requests:

1.       that Joe Arpaio’s criminal conviction remain on the court record

2.       that Arpaio’s pardon be thrown out and the judge move forward with the sentencing

Spencer Scharff, with the Goddard Law Firm in Phoenix, is one of the attorneys who filed the amicus brief.

“This ruling could potentially create precedent as to the effect of the pardon power, to the effect of what the extent of that pardon power is,” he said.

In their filing, Congress members said President Trump’s decision was “not based upon the considerations of grace that usually justify the exercise of the pardon power.”

In other words, this pardon is different.

“And that’s what attorneys do. We try to distinguish our cases and persuade judges and juries why this is different from previous situations,” said Andrew Clemency, who teaches Constitutional law at Arizona State University.

Clemency, who isn’t involved with this case, is not optimistic the brief has chance. 

“It is a unique situation, but at the end of the day, the president has vast discretion in this context. He exercised it, and I think that’s the end of it,” he said.

Five other groups have asked the judge for the lesser of the two requests, to keep Arpaio’s court conviction on his record.

For now, we cannot verify one way or another if the request to vacate the conviction and the pardon are legitimate legal arguments.

The pardon itself and the timing of it are unique to this case, and it will be up to the courts to decide if there’s merit to both requests. 

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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