It was rumored this week that Justice Clarence Thomas was considering retiring from the Supreme Court. That widely circulated report was quashed by his wife. Not only is Thomas apparently not on the verge of leaving SCOTUS but also the “silent” justice has given voice to an iniquitous decision.
Monday, Justice Thomas wrote the majority opinion, a 5-to-3 decision, that ruled police officers can use evidence found in searches conducted after learning that the defendants had outstanding arrest warrants. In Thomas’s opinion, the searches do not violate the Fourth Amendment when the arrest warrant is valid and unconnected to the conduct that prompted the stop.
In other words, if a citizen is not viewed as “suspicious” and the police stops and frisks him or her and discovers that he or she has an outstanding warrant, the evidence procured, for example a small amount of marijuana, can be used against them.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor let loose a searing denouncement of the opinion, charging that “your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights,” she wrote in her dissent.
“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,” she wrote, along with citing the works of James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michelle Alexander. “Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: 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.”
We agree with Sotomayor in her firm stance on the issue of search and seizure. The Fourth Amendment clearly states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
This decision will have wide implications and undergird the stop-and-frisk policies that have been toxic and valiantly contested by civil and human rights organizations. What we have here is a disturbing extension of racial profiling, and we certainly agree with Sotomayor that “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
According to federal and state databases, there are more than 7.8 million outstanding warrants, and Sotomayor notes that “the majority of which appear to be for minor offenses.” To cite an example of how far-reaching and devastating the decision can be, consider that of the 21,000 residents of Ferguson, Mo., approximately 16,000 are subject to arrest warrants.
Unfortunately, the news about Thomas’ retirement was greatly exaggerated, and now he has given his silence a resounding uptick, one that we challenge in the same way we took opposition to the Court’s decision three years ago in Shelby v. Holder that witnessed the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
And where, for God’s sake, is the process to replace the late Antonin Scalia? It has been more than 100 days since Scalia’s death and President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, but the Republican leaders have blocked any possibility of confirming him.
All the more troubling is that the situation in the Supreme Court could get worse if Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, wins the White House. With Thomas not going anywhere and the clock ticking for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Court under Trump’s watch would continue to wreak havoc on our Constitutional rights.