Ninth Circuit appoints special prosecutor in Arpaio Appeal of Criminal Contempt Conviction

Today, the Ninth Circuit issued an order appointing a special prosecutor to defend the district court’s decision denying former sheriff Joe Arpaio’s attempt to vacate his conviction for criminal contempt. This marks a critical victory in the fight to secure an independent judiciary and ensure the Ninth Circuit will have an opportunity to be fully briefed on the serious constitutional questions raised by the President’s unprecedented use of the pardon power.

Last November, Free Speech For People joined Protect Democracy and other allies to call for the appointment of a special prosecutor after the Department of Justice refused to defend Arpaio’s conviction.  Trump’s pardon of Arpaio goes to the very heart of the judiciary’s power to use criminal contempt to enforce judicial orders, especially when they are necessary to protect the constitutional rights of individuals. Free Speech For People and Protect Democracy initially filed a letter with the Department of Justice objecting to the pardon four days after it was granted.

At a time when rumors are swirling about the President’s potential plans to use the pardon power to derail the Russia investigation, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling is a welcome sign that the judiciary recognizes that there are limits to the pardon power, and is taking steps to protect the separation of powers.