Stephen Gottlieb: Sotomayor’s Dissent In Utah v. Strieff, Part II
Last time I read a portion of a dissent by Justice Sotomayor. The Supreme Court of Utah had held that the Utah police had violated the defendant’s constitutional rights. The United States Supreme Court overruled that decision. In the portion of her opinion I read you last time, Justice Sotomayor explained what happens, not always, but what often happens when police stop people. And she explained what the Supreme Court authorizes police to do. Justice Sotomayor explained the ways that stops of people regardless of innocence of any crime, let alone any crime deserving jail time, can injure decent citizens. I didn’t have time to read you the last part of her opinion, so I will read it now:
This case involves a suspicionless stop, one in which the officer initiated this chain of events without justification. As the Justice Department notes,  many innocent people are subjected to the humiliations of these unconstitutional searches. The white defendant in this case shows that anyone’s dignity can be violated in this manner. But 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, 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. 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.  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. I dissent.
Justice Sotomayor was born in New York City to parents from Puerto Rico. After compiling stellar records at Princeton and Yale Law School, she became a prosecutor, eventually going into private practice. She spent six years as a federal judge, another decade as a federal appellate judge, and joined the Supreme Court in 2009. She writes from every angle of the criminal justice system, as an experienced prosecutor, attorney, member of the community, and judge. Her citations are to decisions of the United States Supreme Court. Before she left the Court, Justice O’Connor wrote a stinging dissent to one of the decisions Justice Sotomayor cites.She was coming to understand the enormity of what the Court has authorized. But this is the Court we have. Is this the Court we want?
 Utah v. Strieff, 136 S. Ct. 2056, 2069-71 (2016) (Sotomayor, J., dissenting).
 [Dept. of Justice, Civil Rights Div., Investigation of the Newark Police Department 8, 19, n. 15  (2014), online at https://www.justice.gov/sites /default/files/crt/legacy/2014/07/22/newark_findings_7-22-14.pdf.] at 8,
 See M. Gottschalk, Caught 119-138 (2015).
 See M. Alexander, The New Jim Crow 95-136 (2010).
 See, e.g., W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903); J. Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963); T. Coates, Between the World and Me (2015).
 See L. Guinier & G. Torres, The Miner’s Canary 274-283 (2002).
 Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U. S. 318, 360 (2001) (O’Connor, J., dissenting).
Steve Gottlieb is Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School and author of Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and the Breakdown of American Politics. He has served on the Board of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and in the US Peace Corps in Iran. Steve maintains a blog: constitutionalismanddemocracy.wordpress.com
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