How This Human Rights Lawyer Will Explain The Pardon Of Arpaio To My Latinx Children
By Zulma Miranda, Esq.
Last night after I put my children to bed I learned of #45’s pardon of Arpaio. I was not surprised by the decision – and knew that I needed to explain to my children that a pardon is an act of grace not of racism.
I’ve spent the last nine months explaining our civic, social and judicial system to my children — being truthful about this country’s history, both the insidious oppression instituted that harms black and brown communities, immigrant communities, and LGBTQ communities — and the beauty of the collective spirit of justice.
As someone who has worked across judicial systems around the world, I’ve had a glimpse at the poetry of Constitutions globally – the written aspirations for dignity and for the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights reminds us that this “is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” As a Human Rights lawyer, I have stood side by side with people who are tortured, killed and in exhile from their countries for trying to bring these words to life.
Why is this relevant? Because “We the People” is the spirit of the America we fight for every day. As a Latinx immigrant, of Spanish and Arab decent, who studied government and politics, global governments and human rights, I took an oath to defend the constitution of this country. I am an officer of the court, and a citizen – I am part of the “we” that makes of the diverse fabric of this nation.
#45’s pardon of Arpaio is a presidential endorsement of racism and an affront to love, justice, and the spiritual grounding this country needs.
We know that Article II of the Constitution confers broad pardoning powers to the president of the U.S, but as we begin to tell truths about the roots of America, we must remember that “we the people” are tasked with envisioning a “perfect union” promoting “the general welfare” and securing the “Blessings of Liberty.” To me, this means that we must continue to speak up, take action OR our hopes for justice and equality will atrophy. Many of our communities have been, for generations, fighting for the blessing of liberty and equality – in a country that while it criticizes and empowers the impunity of war criminals globally, harbors its own.
Linn Manuel Miranda brought Hamilton back to life, and in a soulful and captivating way, tells us not to give away our shot at justice. Hamilton, in No. 74 of his Federalist Papers, reminds us that the purpose of the pardon was to temper justice with mercy. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared that ”[a] pardon . . . is . . . the determination of the ultimate authority that the public welfare will be better served by [the pardon] . . .”
While the Constitution grants pardon power, “we the people” must remember that the intent of the law was not to grant the President unexamined abuse of power where he can invoke mercy on behalf of a criminal that has no regard for the rule of law.
Let us also not forget that under previous administrations, the pardon authority was instituted to implement an administration’s philosophy toward crime. As we ponder about how to respond in a moment when power feels absolute, we can focus our efforts on calling for criminal justice reform. The America we fight for is one where we don’t criminalize people for the color of our skin, or for who we love, or for where we are born. Let us not forget that “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons” (Dostoevsky).
This morning, as I sit with my kids, I will teach them of the “we the people” spirit this nation urgently needs.
Zulma Miranda, Esq. is Vice President, Strategic Philanthropy at Auburn and a Human Rights Lawyer.