NYT’s SCOTUS Reporter Adam Liptak Lauds Justice Sotomayor's Crusade Against Cops

April 4th, 2018 3:28 PM

In Tuesday’s New York Times, Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak was quite aggrieved in his "Sidebar" column about a decision involving allegations of excessive force against an Arizona cop.

Amy Howe at SCOTUS Blog recounted that “The justices overturned -- without briefing or oral argument -- the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in favor of Amy Hughes, whom police corporal Andrew Kisela shot and wounded in 2010. Kisela had responded to reports that Hughes was in the street with a large knife ‘screaming and crying very loud’; when he arrived, he saw Hughes approaching another woman. After Hughes ignored orders to drop the knife and continued to move toward the woman, Kisela fired at Hughes. The shots struck Hughes several times, although her injuries were not life-threatening.”

Though apparently seven justices sided with the police, Liptak couldn’t have made it more clear whose side he was on, and focused almost solely on the two liberal dissenters, in “Supreme Court Sides With Police Officer Accused of Using Excessive Force”:

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled for an Arizona police officer who shot a woman outside her home in Tucson. The court’s decision was unsigned and issued without full briefing and oral argument, an indication that the majority found the case to be easy.

From there, Liptak devoted 10 paragraphs of the 20-paragraph story to Sotomayor’s dissent (which was joined by liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) and was heavy on impassioned quotes, compared to a single paragraph, without quotations summing up the majority:

In an impassioned dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the majority had gone badly astray.

“Its decision is not just wrong on the law; it also sends an alarming signal to law enforcement officers and the public,” she wrote. “It tells officers that they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”


In dissent, Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said the majority’s reasoning was perplexing.

“Hughes was nowhere near the officers, had committed no illegal act, was suspected of no crime, and did not raise the knife in the direction of Chadwick or anyone else,” Justice Sotomayor wrote, adding that only one officer had opened fire.


Justice Sotomayor said the court’s decision in the case, Kisela v. Hughes, No. 17-467, was part of a disturbing trend of “unflinching willingness” to protect police officers accused of using excessive force.

The court’s decisions concerning qualified immunity, she wrote, “transforms the doctrine into an absolute shield for law enforcement officers.”

“Because there is nothing right or just under the law about this,” she wrote, “I respectfully dissent.”

Liptak has celebrated Sotomayor’s dissents in criminal justice cases before, as on July 4, 2016. “In Dissents, Sonia Sotomayor Takes On the Criminal Justice System.” Liptak gushed on Sotomayor’s dissents: “Read together, they are a remarkable body of work from an increasingly skeptical student of the criminal justice system, one who has concluded that it is clouded by arrogance and machismo and warped by bad faith and racism.”

(In both stories, Liptak quoted Sotomayor accusing cops of having a "shoot first and think later" mentality.)

He also makes a habit when covering this right-leaning court of giving more weight to liberal dissents, as he did when the court upheld an affirmative action ban by a 6-2 margin.