A 96-year old judge from Brooklyn is pushing back against the Supreme Court, claiming a pair of recent rulings protecting law enforcement from lawsuits had gone too far.
In a Monday decision, Judge Jack B. Weinstein claimed the expanded police protections could absolve “all but the plainly incompetent” from the consequences of misconduct.
“The Supreme Court’s recent emphasis on shielding public officials and federal and local law enforcement means many individuals who suffer a constitutional deprivation will have no redress,” wrote Weinstein.
Weinstein’s condemnation of the higher court came after a case involving four Brooklyn police officers. The group had been accused of assaulting a civil who refused to let them into his home without a search warrant. Law enforcement attorneys maintained their clients shouldn’t be sued for performing routine duties.
However, Judge Weinstein refused the motion to dismiss, insisting that the case first be considered by a jury.
The New York Times reports that Weinstein—who’s served the Federal District Court in Brooklyn since 1967—has long held a reputation for ‘progressive leanings’ and an ‘iconoclastic temperament.’ Last summer, says the Times, the nearly-century-old judge ‘publicly called for more female lawyers to have speaking roles’ outside the office. Prior to that, Weinstein personally investigated the problem of police perjury and bemoaned a “lack of sentencing alternatives” for young criminals.
No matter Weinstein’s record, experts interviewed by the Times say disregard for the Supreme Court should still come as a surprise.
“It’s quite unusual,” said Ben Capers, a professor at Brooklyn Law. “A few judges do it occasionally, but the question has to be asked: How else do you change the law?”
Capers added that, since a district judge can’t overturn a Supreme Court mandate, Weinstein’s decision was likely geared to draw the public’s attention to a pressing issue.
“It’s written in a way that he seems to have a larger audience in mind,” said Capers. “He seems to be saying, ‘Look at what’s going on.’”
Any reservations Weinstein may have aren’t unique—in a June 2016 opinion piece for The Washington Times, Judge Jon O. Newman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit expressed similar trepidation.
“Under Section 1983 of the federal civil rights statute, the officer can escape liability with the special defense of qualified immunity,” wrote Newman of cops accused of constitutional infringements, “showing that he reasonably believed his conduct was lawful, even if it was not.
“And if the jury finds the officer liable, federal law does not require his employer to pay the award.”
Newman suggests that successfully suing or convicting an officer is difficult enough without over-bearing legislation—juries tend to be reluctant to condemn a member of law enforcement, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
And statements from public officials—including the U.S. attorney general and President Trump—lend credence to the entirely incorrect notion that police today are under attack, in need of further protections A handful of states, beginning with Louisiana in 2016, passed legislation which makes ‘assaulting’ officers a veritable hate crime.
Curtailing the public’s ability to take on police officers accused of misconduct—whether in the shooting of an African-American man or assault after saying no to a warrantless search—leaves victims of law enforcement wrongdoing, malicious or not, without recourse or an ability to seek recompense.
“The law,” wrote Weinstein on Monday, “must return to a state where some effective remedy is available for serious infringement of constitutional rights.”