“There’s no basis; this was not only a fundamentally flawed decision but an outrageous decision and an attack on the independence of judges,” says Darius Charney, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, the group that sued the city over stop and frisk. “To accuse a judge of violating judicial ethics on such a non-existent record is just outrageous.”
Yet in the long term, stop and frisk as practiced by the New York City police has likely already lost, even with Scheindlin gone.
The Center for Constitutional Rights had charged that the city’s stop and frisk policy violated the constitutional rights of New Yorkers by discriminating against them on the basis of race. Judge Sheindlin had agreed, ordering the city to submit to a federal monitor to oversee the changes to the city’s policing practices. The three judges who removed Sheindlin blocked her August ruling finding that the city’s application of stop and frisk was unconstitutional. The judges wrote that Scheindlin “ran afoul” of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges with statements to the media and her suggestion to a future plaintiff that they file the lawsuit that eventually became the stop and frisk case.
Up to 80% of those stopped in New York City under stop and frisk were black and Latino. Responding to criticism that the policy amounted to racial profiling, Mayor Michael Bloomberg countered that 80% was not nearly enough, saying that “we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.” City officials claimed the policy was necessary to stop crime, but the crime rate in New York is low and was on a modest decline even before stops increased exponentially in recent years.
It is very unusual for a judge to be removed in this fashion, particularly without a request from either party to the case. “A removal at this stage is astoundingly rare,” says Steven Lubet, a professor at Northwestern Law and an expert in legal ethics. Having handled related cases for years, Charney says, Scheindlin knows the facts of the stop and frisk case at a level that any new judge will struggle to reach.
Though the city had not requested Scheindlin be removed for bias, Bloomberg had publicly attacked Scheindlin for failing to be impartial after the city lost its case. ”Given the judge’s public comments and media interviews throughout the case, this decision was certainly not a surprise,” Bloomberg said at a press conference following the ruling.