Court Makes Terrible Ruling On 4th Amendment Search And Seizure Issue, But Justice Sotomayor Rips Them A New One In A Must-Read, Scathing Dissent

Sonia Sotomayor. (photo: Getty Images)

Justice Sotomayor Speaking Truth To Power: She Rips The Majority Apart With Her Scathing Dissent On Utah V Strieff Fourth Amendment Case

Observers of the Supreme Court were dismayed at a 5-3 ruling in Utah v Stieff, a case that took issue with police overreach and Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, but a scathing rebuke of the majority written by Justice Sotomayor was one silver lining to an otherwise ugly day for freedom.

Sotomayor let the majority have it with both barrels, citing the Justice Department’s Ferguson report, Black Lives Matter, and even Atlantic columnist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates, expressing her disappointment at the ruling that is likely to allow even further erosion of a citizen’s right to be left alone by police if he or she is not suspected of any wrongdoing.

The majority decision in Strieff , written by Justice Clarence Thomas allows police to use evidence gathered at a stop if the officer discovers the person being detained has an outstanding warrant or even an outstanding traffic violation.

“This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants–even if you are doing nothing wrong,” Sotomayor writes in her dissent. “If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant.”

Sotomayor went on to lambaste the five justices who ruled in the majority for steadfastly refusing to acknowledge that these kinds of stops do not happen in a vacuum.

“Most striking about the Court’s opinion is its insistence that the event here was ‘isolated,’ with ‘no indication that this unlawful stop was part of any systemic or recurrent police misconduct.’ Nothing about this case is isolated.”

Indeed, giving the cops yet another presumption of innocence as to their motives in making these stops really seemed to stick in the justice’s craw. Citing the Department of Justice’s report on Ferguson, Sotomayor wrote that it was “…recently reported that in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, with a population of 21,000, 16,000 people had outstanding warrants against them.”

Which means that 76 percent of the residents of Ferguson effectively have no Fourth Amendment rights under this ruling.

“We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are ‘isolated,’” Sotomayor wrote. “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.”

Indeed, it is a terrible day for freedom. But at least brave people like Justice Sotomayor are unafraid to make crystal clear for all to see just how far this court has strayed from the America the founding fathers attempted to create.

One fears that that America is history, in more than one sense of the word. At least Justice Sotomayor is forcing the court as well as the rest of us to face this sad truth.

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