Recently, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor came to the defense of the Fourth Amendment in the Supreme Court case Utah v. Strieff. In her dissent, Sotomayor thundered, “The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights…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.”
The case dealt with whether a warrant discovered after an illegal stop makes the stop legitimate. Additionally, if a warrant is found, anything discovered after the stop, like drugs, can be used against an individual in court.
The Fourth Amendment is supposed to protect citizens against unreasonable search and seizures from the government. Additionally, anything discovered after an illegal search is not admissible in court as evidence. The ruling is not only bad for the Fourth Amendment, but also for minority communities.
For example, data compiled by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) found that, in 2015, New Yorkers were “stopped and frisked” by the police 22,939 times. Of those searched, 18,353 (80%) were totally innocent,12,223 (54%) were black, and 6,598 (29%) were Latino.
Sotomayor, a Latina-American born and raised in New York, offers a personal perspective on the effect of unreasonable searches on minority communities: “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.”
Over criminalization disproportionately affects the colored community, and Sotomayor takes it head on. Ceding more of the Fourth Amendment to the police is not good for police or citizens of any color. It will make both police and citizens suspicious of each other, which will only further divide them.