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Justice Sotomayor blasts prosecutor for racist remarks

By Jeannie Rivera Feb 25, 2013 1:34PM


Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor unleashed her inner wise Latina on Monday and let a federal prosecutor who disparaged against blacks and Hispanics have it. Justice Stephen Breyer joined her.

 

The comments came as justices explained their decision not to hear a case because they believe the defendant, a Texas men involved in a drug case, should’ve made his arguments before a lower court.

 

The defendant, Bongani Charles Calhoun, alleges he was just tagging along in a road trip and didn’t know his travel companions were dealing drugs in the course of it. To that, the prosecutor, an assistant US attorney in the Western District of Texas who wasn’t named by the justices said: “You’ve got African-Americans. You’ve got Hispanics, and you’ve got a bag full of money.  Does that tell you — a light bulb doesn’t go off in your head and say, ‘This is a drug deal?’”

 

The disparaging comments, Calhoun argues, signals bias that affected the outcome of his trial. He is African American.

 

Sotomayor and Breyer made abundantly clear that their decision not to hear the case had to do with process and should not be in any way interpreted like they condone the prosecutor’s racist remarks.

 

“By suggesting that race should play a role in establishing a defendant’s criminal intent, the prosecutor here tapped into a deep and sorry vein of racial prejudice that has run through the history of criminal justice in our Nation. It is deeply disappointing to see a representative of the United States resort to this base tactic more than a decade into the 21st century,” they said. “We expect the government to seek justice, not to fan the flames of fear and prejudice.”

 

Sotomayor also blasted the Justice Department for not taking action against the prosecutor.

 

This is why race and ethnicity matters in the composition of the court. Justices are human beings and how they execute their bench duties doesn’t occur in a vacuum. If they didn’t draw from their life experiences and only interpreted the law in the most [impossibly] purist of ways, every decision made by the Court would be unanimous. The racist comments resonated with Sotomayor because she dealt with them growing up. They touched her in a way that was unique to her experience as a Latina woman from a poor background. She reacted the same way she always has, which could be credited for why she's come so far. She spoke out.

 

 

7Comments
Feb 27, 2013 4:27AM
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Who's surprised that a Prosecutor's Office in the South systematically tries people by race?
Feb 27, 2013 11:06AM
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This is but one demonstration of how far this country still has to go as far as being free of ignorance and prejudice in the public as well as private sector. It applies to the courts, law enforcement, private businesses and all facets of life in this country. For those who say that there is no more need for affirmative action need only learn about cases such as this.
Feb 27, 2013 3:47PM
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We are all the products of our genes, environment, general social culture and experiences-and sometimes its victims...Sadly, ignorance of others from different social cultures is the leading cause for these sick assumptions by the prevailing majority. Good show Sotomayor ! 
Feb 27, 2013 1:02PM
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I'm an ex-police officer who happens to be Hispanic.  Are the justices angered because the defendant was innocent or because an officer or prosecutor believes that too many members of a minority group get involved with drugs?  Most of the 100+ drug cases that I was involved with during my 10 years in law enforcement in Texas were members of the minority community, mostly Hispanic.  It's a question of economics and upbringing.  Most whites that we arrested were poor as well.  I think that criminals simply find it difficult to resist the temptations to commit crime.  They don't want to work for what they have or they get hooked on alcohol and drugs.  I don't expect  the justices to understand what happens around our neighborhoods.  We need to support our police and actually punish the criminals.  Those who are supporting the criminals will be the first ones to call the police if those same criminals harm them.  How ironic is that?  Bad cops are few and can be weeded out in short order.
Feb 27, 2013 1:02PM
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I'm an ex-police officer who happens to be Hispanic.  Are the justices angered because the defendant was innocent or because an officer or prosecutor believes that too many members of a minority group get involved with drugs?  Most of the 100+ drug cases that I was involved with during my 10 years in law enforcement in Texas were members of the minority community, mostly Hispanic.  It's a question of economics and upbringing.  Most whites that we arrested were poor as well.  I think that criminals simply find it difficult to resist the temptations to commit crime.  They don't want to work for what they have or they get hooked on alcohol and drugs.  I don't expect  the justices to understand what happens around our neighborhoods.  We need to support our police and actually punish the criminals.  Those who are supporting the criminals will be the first ones to call the police if those same criminals harm them.  How ironic is that?  Bad cops are few and can be weeded out in short order.
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About the author
  • Jeannie RiveraJeannie Rivera

    Jeannie Rivera is an independent writer and former newspaper reporter who lives in Central Florida with her family, a guitar, a few orchids and a bunch of books. She doesn't have pets and this is unlikely to change. She's penned stories for The Miami Herald, The Orlando Sentinel, BBC Mundo, AOL and others. She was raised in Puerto Rico where she learned to sing, cook good food, be a good mom and throw boisterous parties (she gets great story material from these.) She enjoys traveling, good wine, great books, her two boys and sleeping.