US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor slammed a prosecutor’s open racism in an unusual opinion today, joining in a decision not to hear a case but taking the step of rebuking a US prosecutor for the unabashedly inappropriate remark.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued the opinion as the court declined to hear the case Bongani Charles Calhoun v. United States for reasons unrelated. But calling out US Attorney Sam Ponder in the writing, Sotomayor blasted him — saying the “racially charged remark” uttered in the course of a drug trial during open court was one the likes of which she hopes to “never to see” again.
Of the racist remark, Sotomayor clarified that the court wished “to dispel any doubt whether the Court’s denial of certiorari should be understood to signal our tolerance of a federal prosecutor’s racially charged remark.”
Sotomayor and fellow justices were referring to a statement made by Ponder during the case about the black defendant. He had said:
“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?’ “
“By suggesting that race should play a role in establishing a defendant’s criminal intent, the prosecutor here tapped a deep and sorry vein of racial prejudice that has run through the history of criminal justice in our Nation. 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.”
Sonia Sotomayor also said that Ponder’s statement was “pernicious in its attempt to substitute racial stereotypes for evidence, and racial prejudice for reason,” and that it was “deeply disappointing to see a representative of the United States resort to this base tactic more than a decade into the 21st century.”