Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's dissent in a case involving police searches, inquires and warrants this week has been noted far and wide for its verbal ferocity and alternate perspective on American history and civil liberties. And as Esquire suggested to its readers, if you have not read it yet, you really should.
In case you missed those assessments or Washington Post Supreme Court reporter Bob Barnes's larger explanation of the issues in the case, here's a quick recap of Sotomayor's key arguments against allowing police and prosecutors to use as evidence in court anything obtained during a warrantless search, if it, in fact, turns out that the person is currently wanted for arrest.
Here's the key section of what Barnes wrote:
“The white defendant in this case shows that anyone’s dignity can be violated in this manner,” Sotomayor wrote. “But it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this scrutiny.”
She referenced writers Michelle Alexander, W.E.B Du Bois and Ta-Nehisi Coates, and wrote of the conversations that minority parents “for generations” have had with their children, “out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them.”
“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,” Sotomayor wrote. “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.”
The strong language came in a case that had gotten little attention. It involved the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unlawful searches and seizures and a court-developed standard called the exclusionary rule, which excludes evidence obtained by police in an unlawful manner.
Sotomayor countered the majority's opinion by explaining that these incidents are not rare and are especially common in the lives of people of color. And while her view wasn't embraced by the court — which ruled 5 to 3 the other way — it is something that broad swaths of Americans, and especially black and Hispanic Americans, agree with.
How do we know? In December 2015, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) polled Americans on a variation of this very question: How common is police misconduct?
White Americans and black Americans really do not agree. Please take note of the rather large differences in opinion along racial and ethnic lines.
Sotomayor does not, indeed, stand alone.