Monday, June 20, 2016

Justice Sonia Sotomayor channels black studies

In her dissent in Utah vs.Strieff, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor draws on the work of W. E. B. Du Bois, Michelle Alexander, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and others to strengthen her case about why she disagrees with the majority opinion concerning the legality of searches and seizures by police officers.  

Sotomayor writes that,
it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny. See M. Alexander, The New Jim Crow 95–136 (2010). 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. 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).

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. See L. Guinier & G. Torres, The Miner’s Canary 274–283 (2002). 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.
In an article about the dissent, Victoria M. Massie writes that "Sotomayor’s dissent highlights the ways the ruling fails to listen to those who have long discussed the ways illegal stops undermine American democracy."

Yes. What also stood out to me was how important black studies texts were to Sotomayor's ability to produce such a strong dissent.

Black Intellectual Histories 
Ta-Nehisi Coates

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