On August 25, as Hurricane Harvey pummeled Texas, President Trump issued a “full pardon” to his friend Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff convicted of criminal contempt for refusing to honor a court order to stop detaining people he suspected of being undocumented immigrants. Not content to merely avoid punishment (he was facing a maximum of six months in jail), the 85-year-old tried to have all record of his criminal conviction wiped out.
The case raised new questions about the powers of a presidential pardon, but a federal judge rejected the request on Thursday.
“The power to pardon is an executive prerogative of mercy, not of judicial recordkeeping,” wrote Phoenix-based U.S. District Court judge Susan Bolton, who ruled against Arpaio in July. “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.”
Erasing the conviction would not change Arpaio’s situation, but his lawyers told the Washington Post it was a “matter of clearing his name.” They argued that he had intended to appeal the contempt ruling, but due to the pardon he has no way of clearing the conviction. Justice Department lawyers filed a brief with the court arguing that “the court should vacate all orders and dismiss the case as moot.”
Now Arpaio’s attorneys intend to take the question of whether his record should be wiped clean to the San Francisco–based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. “It’s not going to be dropped,” Arpaio told Capitol Media Services.