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Speaking Of… The only woman of color on the Supreme Court is the only one fighting for victims
Every year, the Supreme Court receives about 10,000 petitions and hears only around 80 cases. Four justices have to vote to hear an appeal, which ensures that thousands of petitions are swatted away without comment, leaving the lower court’s decision as the final word. Unfairness is baked into the cake: SCOTUS’s desire for tidy docket management means that egregious wrongs go unrighted simply because four justices lack the nerve, the bandwidth, or the desire to address them. A majority of the court seems content with this state of affairs. Not Justice Sonia Sotomayor. In recent years, Sotomayor has emerged not only as the conscience of the court but as the watchdog of its docket. She continually writes separate opinions to flag cases involving extreme cruelty, lawlessness, and other inequities. Her goal appears to be to urge the public to pay attention to the injustices that the Supreme Court lets stand.
On Monday, the Supreme Court turned away two cases, Brown v. Polk County and Whatley v. Warden, with appalling facts, prompting Sotomayor to write separately about each of them. Start with Brown. In 2017, Sharon Brown was arrested for suspected shoplifting in Polk County, Wisconsin. While in the county jail, two inmates accused her of hiding a packet of methamphetamines in a body cavity. Jail officials sent Brown to the hospital, where a doctor used a speculum to open and examine her vagina. When he found no drugs, he inserted the speculum into Brown’s anus and opened it. The doctor’s headlamp then went out, so Brown waited with the speculum in her anus while he searched for a flashlight. After several minutes, he found the flashlight and discovered no drugs.
Brown sued the jail officials for violating her Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches. She argued that the Constitution requires correctional officers to obtain a warrant based on probable cause before searching the body cavities of a pretrial detainee. (It should be noted that pretrial detainees like Brown have not been convicted of a crime and are legally innocent.) The lower courts ruled against her, finding that officers need only a reasonable suspicion for such a search, and had it in this case. Brown appealed, urging the Supreme Court to rule that a warrant, rather than mere reasonable suspicion, is necessary to conduct such an invasive search of pretrial detainees.
Read the story on Slate
More of This The first openly gay Afro Latino elected to Congress
Ritchie Torres already made history in 2013, when he became the youngest member of the New York City Council at 25. In 2021 he did it again becoming the first openly gay Afro-Latino person elected to Congress. Before getting here, he made waves demanding to be allowed in both the Congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses, writing an op-ed saying, “You have to pick a side, so to speak. You can be either Black or Latino, but never both. In real life, however, I am both.”
He won that battle and has quite a few more he plans to tackle while in Congress. At top of mind is child poverty, including a permanent expansion of the child tax credit. Torres grew up with a single mom in public housing (across the street from a Trump golf course) and is always thinking of that experience while representing the poorest district in Congress.
“And I remember wondering to myself at the time, what does it say about our society that we're willing to invest more in a golf course than in the homes of Black and brown Americans?” Torres said.
Read the story on Politico
Say Her Name What message we are sending Black children about their worth?
Ma’Khia Bryant should be alive. But she was shot and killed this week by a police officer responding to a 911 call placed by an unidentified caller reporting an attempted stabbing. Many people are saying that “we don’t yet know all the facts” as if something might emerge that justifies the killing of a child placed in the care of the state. But I know there can be no justification because I was just like Ma’Khia when I was her age.
Like Ma’Khia at the time of her death, I did not live with my birth parents. My mother struggled with addiction. And my father, a violent man, spent much of my life in prison. My grandparents took me and my siblings in and eventually legally adopted us. They stressed the importance of doing well in school, signed us up for extracurricular activities and ensured we were deeply involved in our church community. They understood that we needed healthy outlets and activities to thrive.
I was a star student at school and a rough-and-tumble kid on the block. As long as my fighting didn’t happen at school and no one got hurt too badly, my grandparents let it slide.
Two weeks before I started high school, my grandmother died. This was a turning point for me. As far as I was concerned, playing by the rules and praying to God were no use. I doled out insults, shoves and punches indiscriminately. At home I openly flouted the rules. The fights that used to happen out of my grandfather’s sight were now happening in the front yard. My grandfather finally reached a breaking point when I walked into the house at 4 a.m. on a school night — as a result of my disobedience, he told me I would have to live with an aunt.
Read the story on LA Times
Less of This The Supreme Court created driving while Black
The reason Brooklyn Center police pulled over Daunte Wright is unclear and largely irrelevant. The Department’s chief of police said the car he was driving had expired tags. His mother said he thought he was pulled over because he had air fresheners hanging from the rearview mirror. Regardless of the reason, 20-year old Wright was shot to death by a police officer minutes after the traffic stop began.
Traffic stops figure prominently in some of the most high-profile police killings of Black people. We remember many of their names—Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile —but they are just a few of the many people who have been killed or died as the result of law enforcement’s expansive authority to enforce traffic laws.
Traffic stops might seem like a local matter, or a subjective police decision, but actually the practice is built on five decades of Supreme Court precedent, a set of decisions that has successively opened the door to — and given police an incentive to — use traffic stops as an invasive tool of policing aimed mostly at people of color, primarily Black people.
Read the story on Politico
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