Believe it or not, when it comes to “Black Lives Matter”, a U.S. Supreme Court justice does not let an opportunity go by to give an unbelievable, race-laden rant. In the recent Utah v. Strieff decision, police stopped Salt Lake City white man Edward Strieff. The Court ruled against him and Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a racially charged dissent. Only problem, it was not about defendant Strieff’s 4th amendment rights or being stopped due to his race.
Are you confused yet? You should be.
In the case, Strieff was stopped by police officers on what had been concluded to be an illegal stop. Subsequent to the stop the arresting officers discovered Strieff had an outstanding warrant for a small traffic violation, and also had methamphetamine in his pocket. The High Court ruled 5-3 that there had been no “flagrant police misconduct and a police officer discovered a valid, pre-existing, and untainted warrant for an individual’s arrest, evidence seized pursuant to that arrest is admissible even when the police officer’s stop of the individual was unconstitutional.”
Some legal minds may quiver about the court’s application of the exclusionary rule, which prohibits police and prosecutors from using evidence obtained illegally. In this case Strieff’s legal counsel believed the rule applied because the officers learned during the course of the illegal stop that there was a warrant for his arrest, and also found additional contraband while executing the arrest on said warrant.
Justice Sotomayor filed a fiery dissent stating, “The white defendant in this case shows that anyone’s dignity can be violated in this manner,” she wrote.
But it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny. For generations, black and brown parents have given their children” the talk”— instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger—all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them.
This is where Justice Sotomayor goes off of the legal reservation. While it is true that many blacks who have been stopped illegally for reasons which are at best wrong-headed and at worse unconstitutional, this case was not the place to raise those concerns. The court did not find flagrant police misconduct. The police officer did discover a valid pre-existing untainted warrant for Strieff’s arrest.
Are you still a little confused. Well, the supreme court justice then puts on her deep wading legal boots and likens the white defendant’s arrest and conviction to minorities who are routinely targeted by police. They are “The canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere.”
Then the justice accused the Court of treating minority communities as “second class citizens.” While much of the strident legalisms that Justice Sotomayor wrote would have been better served in a law class or at a seminar, it had no valid place in this case. Her protestations appeared more politically opportunistic in her dissent case commentary than creating any sort of legal connectivity to the case at hand.
After all, perhaps if this was 2040 or 2050 when the minority population in America will be the projected majority, her dissent may have some remote legal credence. Maybe she was trying to channel Strieff’s inner minority connection to Ferguson’s Michael Brown police stop. But that would clearly be an impossible stretch and so is her logic.
She even cited “The Souls of Black Folk,” by W. E. B. Du Bois, as well as literary works of James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, in her dissent.
Liberals of course will laud her as a legendary legal scholar who should be lionized in the annals of SCOTUS lore. According to The Daily Caller,” Adam Bonin, a Philadelphia attorney and DailyKos blogger, called it “epic and important.” He stressed “It’s a Brown/Black Lives Matter manifesto,”
If this is how liberal Supreme Court justices like Sotomayor are going to decide cases by likening every imaginable violation as a “Black Lives Matter” scenario, then the great melting pot of America will become armed camps of race-baiting reactionaries.
Here’s a clue for Justice Sotomayor. Sometimes a police stop is just a police stop.