Those who are of the badge worshipping and law enforcement bootlicking persuasion might assume that Judge Sonia Sotomayor may not have much to offer them as a Supreme Court Justice until they take a look at her record on the 2nd Circuit. As it turns out, Sotomayor has quite an authoritarian streak. It seems that when the powers that be are challenged by an ordinary individual, Sotomayor’s empathy seems to be with those who are employed by the government (and the facts of the circumstance be damned!).
Emily Bazelon writing for Slate warns those who are inclined to support Obama’s nominee: “Liberals, be careful what you wish for.”
The case which concerns Bazelon following her warning in Jocks v. Tavernier illustrates Sotomayor’s badge worshipping tendencies.
The story leading up to Jocks v. Tavernier begins in 1994 with truck driver Thomas Jocks’ truck breaking down on the Long Island Expressway. When the truck came to a stop, the end of his trailer was about 4 feet into the right lane. Trying to be a safe, responsible, and law abiding citizen, Jocks places safety flares as required to warn other drivers and walks nearly a mile to a gas station to find a pay phone* to call 911 about the unsafe situation. Upon arriving at the gas station, Jocks encounters Augusto Tavernier using the pay phone from inside his car.
Bazelon writes [emphasis mine]:
Jocks gave the following account of what happened next: He ran up and told Tavernier there was an emergency because his truck was jutting out onto the expressway. Tavernier told him to find another phone. Jocks repeated the emergency part of his story. Tavernier swore at him. Jocks knocked on his windshield and kept urging him to give him the phone. Finally, Jocks went into the phone stand and hung up on Tavernier’s call. At that point, Jocks said, Tavernier threw the receiver at him, tried to get out of his car, couldn’t because the phone stand was blocking his door, and drove forward. Jocks dialed 911. Tavernier charged him, yelling. Jocks yelled back. Tavernier said, “Why don’t I blow your fucking brains out?” and drew his gun. He pressed the gun into the back of Jocks’ head, and said, “Freeze, police”; and then an off-duty Nassau County police officer arrived, got the situation under control, and arrested Jocks.
Tavernier, too, proved to be an off-duty cop. After his arrest, Jocks was held for 24 hours and ended up having to make 28 court appearances before he was found not guilty of felony assault. He spent $20,000 on legal fees, lost his truck driving job, and had to give up full custody of his daughter, who went to live with her mother, his ex-wife. That dire, black moment on the LIE truly cost him.
Though Jocks was found not guilty of felony assault, much damage had been done. He still was out $20,000, his job, and custody of his daughter. Understandably, he wanted to be compensated for these very real damages. Jocks sued Tavernier and the detective who booked him for false arrest and malicious prosecution. The jury agreed and ordered Tavernier and the detective to pay damages of $600,000; the parties at fault successfully appealed to the 2nd Circuit.
Enter Judge Sotomayor – Bazelon continues:
The judges on the panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit were Sotomayor; Pierre Leval, a Clinton appointee; and John Walker Jr., appointed by President George Herbert Walker Bush […]
Walker wrote an opinion affirming the jury verdict, 2-1. But the drafting took a long time, and when a draft was finally circulated, Sotomayor responded to it by arguing that the grounds for a reasonable arrest are broad. As an off-duty cop who’d been hit in the face with a phone after an altercation, she argued, Tavernier was justified in making the arrest as a matter of law. That meant throwing out the jury verdict. Walker could not get her to change her mind. Instead, Leval decided he was persuaded by Sotomayor’s argument about how broad the grounds for making an arrest can be and switched sides. Finally, Walker gave up and switched, too. His written opinion throws one bone to Jocks by leaving open the possibility of a new trial based on one narrow argument (that he acted in self-defense when he threw the phone). But throwing out the $600,000-plus jury award was a huge blow to the plaintiff. The case was retried in 2007, and Jocks lost, based on the more constraining jury instructions that the trial judge gave because of the 2nd Circuit ruling.
Hold the damn phone** for a minute! In Sotomayor’s world view, even off duty police officers are given more standing, more benefit of the doubt***, and yes, more empathy than the rest of us? Whatever happened to “equal justice under law,” the very words engraved on the very U.S. Supreme Court building she intends work in?
If we want Judges and Justices to decide matters of law with empathy rather than the law and the facts, this is exactly the kind of “justice” we should come to expect.
But never mind that. The important thing is that we have a Supreme Court Justice who is a woman, Latina, and has “life experiences” that the rest of us couldn’t possibly understand!
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