In the wake of President Trump’s pardon of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, reporters are likely to hear words as harsh as “disturbed” and “concerned“ floated by anonymous leaders of the president’s party on Capitol Hill.
There will be few if any leaks from the Supreme Court. But one must wonder what messages the justices are getting from Trump’s extraordinary pardon. Though its major import is Trump’s official endorsement of racist discrimination in law enforcement, a flagrant contempt for judges and courts is the subtext. The issue in the Arpaio case was the very integrity of the federal judiciary. He was not convicted of an ordinary crime, but of deliberately disobeying a federal court order and lying about that; but beyond that, during the litigation that led to his conviction for criminal contempt, he hired a private detective to investigate the wife of a federal judge hearing a case against his office. Any judge can understand the threat posed by law enforcement personnel who seek to strike back at judges and their families, perhaps for purposes of blackmail or revenge—and the deep arrogance of a president who regards such behavior as praiseworthy.
In fact, since even before the election, Trump has brandished his hostility to judges almost as aggressively as his disregard of racial decency. When federal district Judge Gonzalo Curiel was assigned the Trump University civil fraud case, Trump attacked the Indiana-born Curiel in front of a campaign rally as “Mexican” and “a total disgrace.” When Judge James Robart (a George W. Bush appointee) of the District of Washington enjoined the first version of Trump’s “travel ban,” Trump on Twitter dismissed Robart as a “so-called judge" and told his supporters “If something happens blame him and court system.” When another District Judge enjoined his “sanctuary cities” defunding order, Trump publicly threatened to break up the Ninth Circuit. When a terror cell carried out a car attack in Barcelona earlier this month, Trump immediately zeroed in on the “travel ban” case, now pending before the Supreme Court: “The courts must give us back our protective rights,” he tweeted.