Restrictions placed on the Police Department as a result of the federal lawsuit over stop and frisk are all on hold, and the judge who imposed them has been thrown off the case by the Court of Appeals.
The court determined that Judge Shira Scheindlin compromised her need to appear impartial in the case and criticized her for making sure she got to hear it when it was filed six years ago.
Scheindlin had determined last summer that stop and frisk — the police practice of patting down people whom officers deem suspicious for weapons, drugs and other contraband — was unconstitutional. She said it violated the Fourth Amendment right against unwarranted search and seizure and the 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law, the latter because it unfairly targeted minorities.
The NYPD has been stopping hundreds of thousands of people a year under the practice, though the number has declined in the last few years as the policy came under increasing criticism.
Mayor Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and the police unions all maintain that they practice stop and frisk lawfully, adhering to the guidelines for police interactions with citizens that were codified in a 1968 Supreme Court decision, Terry v. Ohio.
The city and the sergeants’ union had appealed Scheindlin’s decision, while the other police unions are seeking standing to intervene in the case.
In an opinion piece the Daily News ran last Sunday, author Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute said former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey are also seeking to intervene, requesting permission to continue the appeal as friends of the court.
The unions, Giuliani and Mukasey seek to keep the appeal going on their own because Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio is expected to drop the appeal when he takes office.
Scheindlin had made sure she would get the case, rather than have it randomly assigned to a judge. As remedies to the discrimination she determined existed, she had ordered that an attorney she chose monitor the Police Department, appointed a panel of a dozen academics to also oversee it, and insisted that officers in one precinct in each borough — the one with the highest number of stops — wear miniature cameras on their uniforms to record interactions with suspects.
All those measures are on hold as a result of the Court of Appeals ruling.
But a majority of the City Council and de Blasio agree more with Scheindlin and the plaintiffs in the case she heard, Floyd v. City of New York, which was brought primarily by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
“I’m extremely disappointed in today’s decision,” de Blasio, a Democrat, said in a prepared statement the day of the Appeals Court ruling, before Tuesday’s election. “We shouldn’t have to wait for reforms that both keep our communities safe and obey the Constitution. We have to end the overuse of stop and frisk — and any delay only means a continued and unnecessary rift between our police and the people they protect.”
His opponent, Republican Joe Lhota, called de Blasio’s thinking on crime “naive” and lauded the three-judge panel’s decision in his own statement.
“Bravo!” Lhota said. “As I have said all along, Judge Scheindlin’s biased conduct corrupted the case and her decision was not based on the facts. The ruling by the nation’s second-highest court was an unprecedented rejection of both the result of the case and the manner with which it was achieved. From Day One, I have stood with Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly in support of these proactive policies that have saved countless lives. The court has vindicated our positions.”
The ruling does not affect other restrictions placed on the Police Department as a result of stop and frisk. The City Council this year enacted two laws, collectively called the Community Safety Act, that are designed to ensure people are not unfairly stopped due to their appearance and to impose another monitor to oversee the NYPD. That monitor, dubbed an inspector general, will answer to the city Department of Investigation, which is charged with uncovering illegal activities by municipal employees.
Mayor Bloomberg had vetoed both measures but was overridden by the Council. The administration then sued to block one part of the law in state court, charging that the Council incorrectly legislated in an area, criminal procedure, that is reserved to the state. The police unions also sued to nullify the law, fearing that the administration’s lawsuit will not be pursued by de Blasio.