Atlantic Cities

How a Judge's Media Interviews Were Used to Block Stop and Frisk Reform

How a Judge's Media Interviews Were Used to Block Stop and Frisk Reform
AP

A trio of federal judges brought stop and frisk reform to a dead stop Thursday afternoon. In a three-page ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit not only granted a stay to the City of New York (meaning the NYPD is free to ignore the recent ruling of Judge Shira Scheindlin), it also kicked Scheindlin off the stop and frisk cases (Jaenean Ligon vs. City of New York and David Floyd v. City of New York) altogether by arguing that she "ran afoul of the code of conduct for United States Judges." 

In a footnote, the Second Circuit's order explains that Scheindlin violated the code of conduct by informing a group of plaintiffs in 2007 that if they had evidence of racial profiling, they should file a lawsuit and she would take it on as a "related case" (which she did). She also apparently violated the code of conduct by giving interviews to The New Yorker, the AP, and the New York Law Journal, in which she discussed her judicial philosophy. 

Jeffrey Toobin, who conducted The New Yorker interview, called the Second Circuit's ruling "preposterous" and said that Scheindlin "did nothing wrong." Both Toobin and The New York Review of Books' David Cole point out that the Second Circuit removed Scheindlin without the city even requesting a new judge. "This is unheard of," Cole says. 

Toobin's excellent piece on Scheindlin, which is largely about her judicial philosophy and her belief in protecting the constitutional rights of New Yorkers, might create the impression that she's being punished for her views. But Scheindlin's statement responding to yesterday's order suggests that the Second Circuit, in reading articles about Scheindlin, didn't bother to, or weren't capable of distinguishing between what she told journalists and what she wrote in her opinions: 

All of the interviews identified by the Second Circuit were conducted under the express condition that I would not comment on the Floyd case. And I did not. Some of the reporters used quotes from written opinions in Floyd that gave the appearance that I had commented on the case. However, a careful reading of each interview will reveal that no such comments were made.

As for the charge that Scheindlin took the case as a form of activism? Cole knocks that one down as well: 

She took the case as a related case because plaintiffs alleged that the city had violated an order that she herself had issued in a prior case challenging the city’s stop-and-frisk practices. That is an entirely reasonable basis for identifying a case as related. The “related case” rule permits district court judges to take cases that are related to cases they have previously decided, in order to encourage efficient resolution of disputes. Judge Scheindlin was well within her authority in taking the case.

The matter of reforming stop and frisk now rests on the shoulders of New York's next mayor. 

Top image: A photo of Judge Scheindlin taken from her interview with the AP in May 2013. AP/Richard Drew

Mike Riggs is a former staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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