Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is schooling a United States prosecutor who attempted to win a drug case by invoking race in the argument.
The country’s first Latina justice released a rare statement on Monday, ripping the Texas prosecutor for trying to “substitute racial stereotype for evidence and racial prejudice for reason.”
The remarks come amid a decision by the nation’s highest court to not hear an appeal of Bongani Charles Calhoun, who insisted during his trial two years ago that he didn’t know that a group of men he was with at a hotel were prepping to make a drug deal.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Ponder asked during the trial, “You’ve got African Americans, you’ve got Hispanics, you’ve got a bag full of money…a light bulb doesn’t go off in your head and say ‘This is a drug deal?’”
In the statement, Sotomayor said she agreed with the court’s refusal to hear the appeal—but wanted to “dispel any doubt” that the action “should be understood to signal our tolerance of a federal prosecutor’s raically charged remark.”
“By suggesting that race should play a role in establishing a defendant’s guilt, the prosecutor here tapped a deep and sorry vein of racial prejudice that has run through the history of criminal justice in our nation,” she wrote. “… 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,” said Sotomayor, adding she never hopes “to see a case like this again.” The statement was co-signed by Justice Stephen Breyer.
Ponder—who is still a U.S. assistant attorney with the Justice Department, told MSNBC.com com that his remarks were “taken out of context” but refused to go into detail. “That’s all I can say. I disagree with the conclusion,” he said. The lawyer’s conduct, according to Talking Points Memo, was referred to an internal Department of Justice review, but it is not clear if any action was taken.
Calhoun was caught in a DEA sting at a hotel, and was convicted for taking part in a drug buy. He was sentenced to 15 years behind bars. He argued that while he went on a trip with friend, he did not know they had planned to buy cocaine.