In a solo dissent to a 5-3 ruling that allows evidence from illegal police seizures to be used in court cases, Sotomayor said the decision would weaken the Fourth Amendment’s protections for all Americans, while highlighting the detrimental effects it would have on minorities’ legal rights.
“They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives,” she wrote. “Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.”
Her most damning comments came towards the end, when she cited a century’s worth of literature to discuss “the talk” minority families have with their children:
But it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny. 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).
In highlighting some of the most articulate minority accounts of the hardships of living in the U.S., Sotomayor hit upon an important point: that the consequences of the court’s ruling are already well known to those who live far from its cloistered halls.