On Monday June 20, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a scathing dissent in response to a 5-3 majority opinion in a Fourth Amendment case.
The case involved a Utah man who was stopped by a police officer conducting surveillance on a house based on an anonymous drug related tip. When the man left the house, the officer stopped him, ran his identification and found an outstanding warrant for a traffic violation. Next, the officer searched the man and found meth and drug paraphernalia. The man was arrested and subsequently convicted. The man filed suit subsequent to his conviction when he later learned the police officer’s stop was unlawful.
The Court concurred the initial stop was unconstitutional due to lack of reasonable suspicion, however it held that because the arrest warrant was valid, the evidence was admissible. In the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas described the incident as at most a negligent mistake on the part of the officer and appeared to downplay its broader implications.
However, Sotomayor took issue with his assessment and claimed the ruling gave police too much power by allowing them to stop you on the street; demand to see your identification; and also check it for outstanding traffic warrants even when you are doing nothing wrong. According to Sotomayor, the ruling in this case sanctions police stops that she believes "corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives."
In further defiance of the majority opinion Sotomayor wrote, "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.”
"By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness,” she continued, “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."
Although the man arrested in this case was white, Sotomayor expressed her belief that the ramifications of the court’s ruling extend to everyone, particularly people of color.