Reprinted with permission from Alternet
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a devastating conclusion to a dissenting opinion released Friday, drawing attention to her conservative colleagues’ callousness toward inmates facing the death penalty and contrasting it with their excessive fealty to President Donald Trump.
Her dissent broke from the court’s decision to grant the Trump administration a stay in the case of Wolf v. Cook County. In the case, a lower court had issued a preliminary injunction blocking implementation in Illinois of Trump’s new “public charge” rule, which places restrictions on immigrants who it believes might use certain government services. Last week, the Trump administration had asked the Supreme Court to overturn the injunction and issue a stay to allow the rule to go into effect while the legal challenges continue.
The five conservative justices ruled in favor of the stay, while the liberal justices — including Sotomayor — opposed it.
But, as Economist reporter Steven Mazie pointed out, Sotomayor was the only one to write a formal dissent — and it included strong words for the conservatives.
She argued that “this Court is partly to blame for the breakdown in the appellate process. That is because the Court—in this case, the New York cases, and many others—has been all too quick to grant the Government’s ‘reflexiv[e]’ requests.”
Perhaps most troublingly, the Court’s recent behavior on stay applications has benefited one litigant over all others. This Court often permits executions—where the risk of irreparable harm is the loss of life—to proceed, justifying many of those decisions on purported failures “to raise any potentially meritorious claims in a timely manner.”
Yet the Court’s concerns over quick decisions wither when prodded by the Government in far less compelling circumstances— where the Government itself chose to wait to seek relief, and where its claimed harm is continuation of a 20-year status quo in one State. I fear that this disparity in treatment erodes the fair and balanced decisionmaking process that this Court must strive to protect.
In other words, she accused the conservative majority on the court of too easily dismissing the plight of people on death row, while jumping at the chance to do relatively trivial favors for the administration.
“A remarkable accusation for a justice to lob against her colleagues,” noted Slate reporter Mark Joseph Stern. “And tragically accurate.”