In a rare statement issued today in connection with the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear a case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor showed just why diversity on the bench matters.
Though the court denied certiorari in Calhoun v. U.S., a drug conspiracy case out of Texas, Sotomayor refused to overlook a racially-charged remark made by one of the prosecutors during trial, saying that the prosecutor “tapped a deep and sorry vein of racial prejudice that has run through the history of criminal justice in our nation.”
Calhoun, the African-American defendant, said at trial that he didn’t realize his friends were about to engage in a drug transaction and left the hotel room where they were staying when another showed up with money. On cross-examination, the prosecutor asked this question:
“You’ve got African-Americans, you’ve got Hispanics, 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 question should never have been posed, Sotomayor wrote in a statement joined by Justice Stephen Breyer. “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,” she wrote. “Such conduct diminishes the dignity of our criminal justice system and undermines respect for the rule of law. We expect the government to seek justice, not to fan the flames of fear and prejudice.”