Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided the case of Utah v. Strieff, which involved the power of the police to detain and search citizens, and what the courts should do when the police break the law in the course of their investigations. Washington Post reporter, Robert Barnes, writes, “the low profile case more likely will be remembered for a fierce and personal dissent from Justice Sotomayor, who said the ruling would exacerbate illegal stops of minorities.” He’s right.
Here’s an excerpt from Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion:
[T]his 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.
Regular visitors to the Cato web site will already be very familiar with many of the points Sotomayor made in her opinion. We have been trying to draw more attention to the problem of confrontational police stops since the death of Amadou Diallo in 2000. Sotomayor cites several scholars that have presented their research findings at Cato. Last year, Professor James Jacobs discussed his book, The Eternal Criminal Record. In 2014, Professor Alice Goffman, discussed her book, On the Run, at a Cato forum titled Lessons from Ferguson.
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