• Aug 31, 2021

Coalition of Race & the Law Centers Urges SCOTUS to Consider Race in Police Seizures

This week we joined an amicus brief filed by colleagues at the NYU School of Law Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law to support a petition for certiorari at the U.S. Supreme Court raising key questions of how racial discrimination in policing impacts core Fourth Amendment rights. The petition for certiorari presents two questions:

  1. Whether a court analyzing if a Fourth Amendment seizure has occurred is categorically barred from considering a person’s race; and
  2. Whether a seizure occurred under all the circumstances of this case.

In this Tampa, Florida case, Anthony Knights was standing outside next to his wife’s car listening to music in the front yard of a home that belonged to a family friend around midnight. Two officers in a patrol car, facing the wrong way on the street, pulled up behind the car and parked, boxing it in against a mailbox and a large shrub. Mr. Knights then got into the driver’s seat of the car and closed the door. The question is how racialized experiences of policing in this neighborhood and beyond might reasonably affect when he felt he was no longer free to end the police encounter. The magistrate judge found that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to make a stop when they parked their car, and the officers seized Mr. Knights when “Officer Seligman parked the patrol car trunk-to-trunk next to the Oldsmobile and impeded Mr. Knights’s freedom of movement.” But the District Court reversed, and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s ruling, finding in a rehearing en banc that the police did nothing coercive, police did not make a show of authority communicating he wasn’t free to leave, and that “the race of a suspect is never a factor in seizure analysis.”

Along with the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle University Law School; Fordham Law School’s Center on Race, Law, and Justice; and the Nathaniel R. Jones Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice at the University of Cincinatti College of Law, we join NYU’s Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law in an amicus brief supporting certiorari and reversal of the Eleventh Circuit en banc decision. Given widespread experiences of racialized policing, race is absolutely relevant to the totality of the circumstances to define a police seizure and whether someone feels “free to leave.” As we say in the brief, and as we have argued before in front of the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court, “When the court below declared that well-documented racial differences in police interactions can never inform the totality of the circumstances for whether a reasonable person would feel free to leave police presence, it did not adopt a race-neutral standard—it effectively imposed the norm of a reasonable white person.”

Read the coalition brief:

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