When the Supreme Court lost its most conservative member earlier this year, many thought that the remaining term could be a disaster for personal liberty cases. It turns out they were right. In the most recent decision, however, it’s not the court’s liberal wing who’s to blame. This time, the court’s traditionally conservative members dealt a confusing blow to the constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
Justices Thomas, Alito, Breyer, Kennedy, and Roberts joined forces in a decision that would grant the government additional search and seizure authority without probable cause. The decision likely intends to empower the police to stop and punish crime, but without prior knowledge of a crime being committed, all it does is allow a private citizen to be subject to imprisonment at the whim of U.S. authorities.
The Supreme Court is back in the headlines this week, after deciding multiple controversial cases. The latest grants police new authority to stop individuals without cause.
In a 5-3 decision, the US Supreme Court decided that it is ok for police to conduct illegal stops if an outstanding warrant is found after the fact. I.E., police officers can stop you, demand your ID, run it and if some old parking ticket you forgot about comes up, they can search you and use anything they find as evidence for prosecution.
Until this decision was made, any stop a police officer would make without probable cause was illegal. Now, they can stop you to search for probable cause.
Of the three justices that voted against the law, Justice Sonya Sotomayer said “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.”
It’s not often that Justice Sonya Sotomayor stands on the side of personal liberty, but there’s a catch. She dissented not to protect citizens of the United States, but to protect illegal immigrants. In her dissent, she claimed that it gave too much power to police looking to verify an individuals “legal status.” A good decision, then, made on bad principles.