Sonia Sotomayor Rings The Alarm On Fourth Amendment Case Ruling


The U.S. Supreme Court has just made a profoundly unsettling decision in a recent Fourth Amendment case, which interferes with historic protections against wrongfully convicting Americans with evidence procured from illegal searches.

The decision was announced Monday (June 20), and it recalls the conviction of a Utah man who was tried on drug charges after one cop followed him, and then searched him illegally, discovering a small amount of methamphetamine.

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The Court’s 5-3 determination, according to The Nation, essentially grants police officers a pass to illegally stop Americans who are not acting suspiciously. In other words: they do not themselves have to follow the law when they are enforcing it. And Justice Sonia Sotomayor, for one, is not having it.

“This Court has given officers an array of instruments to probe and examine you. When we condone officers’ use of these devices without adequate cause, we give them reason to target pedestrians in an arbitrary manner,” she writes in her scathing dissent. “We also risk treating members of our communities as second-class citizens.”

Like Justice Sotomayor, Justice Kagan the majority ruling is extremely problematic stating, “If a police officer stops a person on the street without reasonable suspicion, that seizure violates the Fourth Amendment. And if the officer pats down the unlawfully detained individual and finds drugs in his pocket, the State may not use the contraband as evidence in a criminal prosecution. That much is beyond dispute. The question here is whether the prohibition on admitting evidence dissolves if the officer discovers, after making the stop but before finding the drugs, that the person has an outstanding arrest warrant. Because that added wrinkle makes no difference under the Constitution, I respectfully dissent.”

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In a compelling conclusion, Sotomayor found herself citing the likes of James Baldwin and W.E.B. Du Bois, and referencing #BlackLivesMatter:

By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.

We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. See L. Guinier & G. Torres, The Miner’s Canary 274–283 (2002). They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.

I dissent.