New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his police commissioner won a massive victory on Thursday as an appeals court issued a stay on an order halting the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk program.
The two-page order both halts the ruling from federal district court Judge Shira Scheindlin and removes Scheindlin from the case, agreeing with the Bloomberg administration's argument that Scheindlin was biased against the police force.
Upon review of the record in these cases, we conclude that the District Judge ran afoul of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, Canon 2 (“A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities.”); see also Canon 3(C)(1) (“A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned . . . .”), and that the appearance of partiality surrounding this litigation was compromised by the District Judge’s improper application of the Court’s “related case rule,” see Transfer of Related Cases, S.D.N.Y. & E.D.N.Y. Local Rule 13(a), and by a series of media interviews and public statements purporting to respond publicly to criticism of the District Court.
Emphasis added. Scheindlin's long-standing battle with the NYPD was thoroughly documented by The New Yorker earlier this year. Her decision in the case that found stop-and-frisk to be unconstitutional (Floyd, et. al. vs. City of New York) was linked, even before the case began, to another case in which she'd already found against the police. From The New Yorker:
She wrote that she was going to decide the city's punishment in the Ligon case (which the city had already lost) at the end of the Floyd trial (which had not even taken place). In other words, it looked as though Scheindlin were scheduling her remedies hearing as if she had already ruled against the city in Floyd. … [T]he city lawyers in the Floyd case are skeptical that the Judge's mind is open. "It's like she has scheduled our sentencing before she's even found us guilty," one said.
At issue in the current case is the NYPD's long-standing practice of detaining and searching people on minor presumptions of guilt. Several years ago, as the result of another case, Scheindlin mandated that the NYPD document those stops, which are commonly called stop-and-frisks. The data that was collected formed the basis of the judge's later determination; the vast majority of those stopped are people of color and found to be completely innocent of any crime. The graph at right shows the racial composition of those stopped.
Bloomberg, never one to keep his opinions to himself, excoriated Scheindlin in the wake of the initial ruling. "Think about this judge on stop-and-frisk,” he said on a radio show. “What does she know about policing? Absolutely zero. … Your safety and the safety of your kids is now in the hands of some woman who does not have the expertise to do it." Bloomberg's police commissioner, Ray Kelly, joined in the fight, writing an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal that defended the practice itself. Salon's Alex Pareene noted its many inaccuracies.
The policy has also been at the center of the lopsided New York mayor's race. Democrat Bill de Blasio has repeatedly argued that stop-and-frisk should be curtailed; his Republican opponent Joe Lhota has insisted, like Kelly, that ending the policy will bring New York back to the crime-riddled days of the 1970s. (Long-term national crime trends make obvious that such concerns are unwarranted.) The election is next Tuesday, meaning that this decision is unlikely to have a significant effect.
The next steps for stop-and-frisk aren't clear. The City Council implemented sweeping reforms to the process and de Blasio, who is going into next week's election almost certain to be inaugurated mayor on Jan. 1, has campaigned abandoning the practice. "What we need to fix is the problem, the rift between police and community in a lot of our neighborhoods that happened because of the unconstitutional use of stop-and-frisk,” he said in Wednesday's final debate of the campaign. "We can fix that and that will make us safer for the long run."
So even though Bloomberg's sway over New York City policing is waning, the appeals court decision is still a massive victory. What do you get as a going-away present for the billionaire mayor that has everything? Vindication.
Order via Mike Scarcella.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.