PHOENIX (CN) – A group of congressional Democrats on Wednesday urged a federal judge to invalidate President Donald Trump’s pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio and move forward with sentencing on criminal contempt charges.
In a friend of the court brief filed Wednesday in Phoenix, 33 Democrats asked U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton to toss the pardon, arguing it encroaches on the independence of the judiciary.
“The exercise of the pardon power in the circumstances here was not to ameliorate an unduly harsh criminal punishment or to correct a mistake in the enforcement of the criminal law – the intended purpose of the power – but to deprive the judiciary of the means to vindicate the authority of the courts,” the politicians said in the brief. “The effect of the pardon is to subject the judiciary’s authority to enforce prohibitory injunctions, even prohibitory injunctions issued in private litigation, to the approval of the executive.”
Bolton found Arpaio, who served as the top lawman in Maricopa County for nearly 25 years, guilty of criminal contempt in July after he defied a 2011 federal court order to stop performing immigration patrols. The order was issued in a racial-profiling class action that claimed Arpaio and his officers used race to single out Latinos in traffic stops.
Trump overturned the conviction last month, finding that the former sheriff was a “worthy candidate” for a presidential pardon. Arpaio, 85, faced up to six months in prison.
“The defendant openly defied an injunction issued by Judge G. Murray Snow in a civil case, Melendres v. Arpaio, and the matter was properly referred to a disinterested judge, Judge Susan R. Bolton, for trial of criminal contempt charges,” the brief said. “This court found beyond reasonable doubt that ‘Judge Snow issued a clear and definite order,’ and that the defendant knowingly and willfully violated that order.”
Two Arizona Democrats, Reps. Raul Grijalva and Ruben Gallego, participated in the filing.
The brief joins others filed by advocacy groups the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, Free Speech for People, the Coalition to Preserve, Protect, and Defend, and the Protect Democracy Project.
Arpaio’s attorneys have asked Bolton to dismiss the case and to throw out her ruling on his conviction. The Justice Department has indicated in court filings that it supports that action.
The brief was filed by R. Brad Miller, a former representative of North Carolina, and former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard.
Bolton has set a hearing on Oct. 4 for arguments on how she should handle the pardon. Pardons typically do not erase a conviction.