Supreme Court

Sonia Sotomayor Stands Up for the Fourth Amendment

Justice Sotomayor emerges as an outspoken Fourth Amendment defender.

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White House / Flickr.com

Justice Sonia Sotomayor is fast becoming the Supreme Court's biggest defender of the Fourth Amendment. After examining her record over the past few SCOTUS terms, including the term that just concluded this week, it's clear that Sotomayor has emerged as a consistent and outspoken voice in favor of broad Fourth Amendment rights. Here's a brief look at some of Sotomayor's most notable actions in recent Fourth Amendment cases.

Missouri v. McNeely

At issue in this 2013 dispute is whether the Fourth Amendment stands in the way of the police obtaining a warrantless and nonconsensual blood test from a suspected drunk driver. Writing for the majority, Sotomayor held that the amendment is indeed such a bulwark. "In those drunk-driving investigations where police officers can reasonably obtain a warrant before a blood sample can be drawn without significantly undermining the efficacy of the search," Sotomayor wrote, "the Fourth Amendment mandates that they do so."

Navarette v. California

In this 2014 case a majority of the Supreme Court said that no Fourth Amendment violation took place when the police conducted a traffic stop and resulting drug bust based solely on information obtained from an anonymous telephone tip. "The Court's opinion serves up a freedom-destroying cocktail," Justice Antonin Scalia seethed in dissent. "All the malevolent 911 caller need do is assert a traffic violation, and the targeted car will be stopped, forcibly if necessary, by the police." That troubling scenario, Scalia wrote, "is not my concept, and I am sure it would not be the Framers', of a people secure from unreasonable searches and seizures." Sotomayor signed on to Scalia's dissent.

Rodriguez v. United States

At issue in this case was whether a police officer "unnecessarily prolonged" an otherwise legal traffic stop when he called for backup in order to walk a drug-sniffing dog around the stopped vehicle. During the January 2015 oral arguments, Justice Department lawyer Ginger Adams insisted that the police are entitled to broad leeway when it comes to determining the amount of time that's "reasonably required" in that sort of situation. Justice Sotomayor took a decidedly different view. "We can't keep bending the Fourth Amendment to the resources of law enforcement," an exasperated Sotomayor lectured Adams. "What you're proposing," she told the government lawyer, is an approach that's "purely to help the police get more criminals, yes. But then the Fourth Amendment becomes a useless piece of paper." Three months later Sotomayor joined the majority in voiding the officer's unconstitutional actions.

Mullenix v. Luna

This case centered on a whether or not a police officer was entitled to qualified immunity after using deadly force to end a high-speed car chase. In a 2015 per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court held that the officer was entitled to qualified immunity. In a lone dissent, Sotomayor faulted her colleagues for "sanctioning a 'shoot first, think later' approach to policing [that] renders the protections of the Fourth Amendment hollow."

Utah v. Strieff

In this 2016 ruling the Supreme Court held that the Constitution does not prohibit law enforcement officials from using evidence that had been obtained as a result of an illegal police stop because it turned out that the man who was illegally stopped happened to be the subject of an outstanding traffic warrant. "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," Sotomayor fumed in dissent. "If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant." In her view, "the Fourth Amendment should prohibit, not permit, such misconduct" by the police.

Birchfield v. North Dakota

The final case in our list was decided just last week. At issue here was whether warrantless chemical tests for suspected drunk drivers violate the Fourth Amendment. In a divided opinion, the Court held that warrantless blood tests do violate the Constitution but warrantless breath tests do not. Writing separately, Justice Sotomayor insisted that both types of warrantless DUI tests should have been struck down as unconstitutional. "Because no governmental interest categorically makes it impractical for an officer to obtain a warrant before measuring a driver's alcohol level," Sotomayor wrote, "the Fourth Amendment prohibits such searches without a warrant, unless exigent circumstances exist in a particular case."

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  1. “Carry her water somewhere else progtards. She was appointed by that Kenyan…nuff said.”

    – Resident Yokels

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    1. So the wise latina has not been an utter disaster.

      However, she is still a statist fuck like all the others. So no joy here.

  2. Sotomayor is probably about the best libertarians could hope for from a left-wing justice. Still leaves a lot to be desired on a lot of things, but being at least halfway decent on some civil liberties issues that progressives usually claim to care about (or at least used to), but often fail to adhere to, is a lot better than the alternative of a justice that is universally awful.

    1. ^This^

      I’d definitely say she’s the best among the “liberal” wing of the court and not that much worse than, say, Roberts.

    2. I suspect that if she thought for a moment that warrantless searches wouldn’t effect Hispanics too greatly, she’d be all for it. Her calculus is identity centric which means occasionally she’ll get something right, assuming that it hurts her preferred groups as much or worse than it does the oppressor class.

      1. Not wanting to harm some group is better than willfully harming all.

  3. News like this is bad for the woodchipper business. Really bad.

  4. Where does she stand on the other 26 amendments?

    1. Who gives a fuck about 18?

      1. Rumrunners?

        1. Technically, 18 and 21 cancel out so there are only 25 extant amendments… Although by that logic, 13 and 14 canceled out at least 9 and 10.

          1. And the Commerce Clause cancels them all out.

            1. I thought the FYTW Clause did that.

              1. In practice, that IS the Commerce Clause.

  5. Sonia Sotomayor Stands Up for the Fourth Amendment
    Justice Sotomayor emerges as an outspoken Fourth Amendment defender.

    Dear Leader will not be pleased.
    He did not recommend her to the SCOTUS to defending the Fourth Amendment or any other amendment.
    She was put there by Dear Leader to ensure the further erosion of the Fourth Amendment and the US Constitution.
    It just goes to show you that no one can be trusted.

    1. I suspect that President Nixon had much the same thoughts when contemplating Justice Powell.

  6. Why does Sonia Sotomayor hate America?

  7. Didn’t she rule AGAINST the raisin farmer? In fact, the sole vote against the raisin farmer . . . .

    Oh, Reason – remember the raisins?

    1. This article is narrowly focused on her Fourth Amendment decisions.

      1. “Mr. Dahmer was a bit aloof, perhaps, and his apartment had an odd odor, but he was always courteous and kind each time my family and I spoke to him.”

    2. The raisin farmer raised grapes to make raisins. Remember Cesar Chavez? Grape farmers are oppressors of Latino grape pickers.

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  9. Strikes me that it’s about time someone did.

  10. o, we can expect her to defend the second amendment as well? Or does she only stand up for rights that fall within a modern political dogma?

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  12. In her wiser than most opinion the 4th only applies if it doesn’t “significantly undermining the efficacy of the search.” Can one then only apply the 5th if it doesn’t significantly undermine the efficacy of obtaining a conviction? And you call this Reason?

  13. As far as I can tell, Sotomayor’s defense of the Constitution is generally not principled but simply rooted in common social justice grievances.

    We should never forget her underlying racist and sexist beliefs:

    I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

  14. All those cases cited were against police, not that it wasn’t warranted, it was but I wonder if it came up to violate ones due process concerning the second amendment and they way the powers that be are trying to get around that by using the no fly list and terrorist watch list. Will she side with the gov’t against the 2d or defend people’s rights in these cases.

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