The Supreme Court issued a 5–3 decision on Monday in Utah v. Strieff, a Fourth Amendment case about police searches. In the dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor lambasted the majority for its heartless and illogical rejection of Fourth Amendment freedoms, invoking the Justice Department’s Ferguson report, echoing Black Lives Matter, and even citing Ta-Nehisi Coates.
In the dissent, Sotomayor explains the wide range of the court’s decision. “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 a dissent joined in part by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “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.”
“Most striking about the Court’s opinion,” Sotomayor notes “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.’ ” But in truth, “nothing about this case is isolated.” Sotomayor then dives into the widespread police misconduct that has dominated headlines for several years, focusing on the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report to demonstrate that “outstanding warrants are surprisingly common.”
Sotomayor’s tone is disappointing and for now, her rhetoric is in the minority on the court.