According to CNN, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and another Justice took the rather unusual step to speak out over racist remarks made by a federal prosecutor in a drug case. The case is Calhoun v. U.S. (12-6142).
A Texas Man, Bongani Charles Calhoun, was convicted of participating in a drug buy and sentenced to 15 years in prison on various charges. In dispute during his case was whether he was a willing participant, or simply happened to be present when others attempted to purchase the drugs from federal undercover agents.
The defendant in the case, Bongani Charles Calhoun, wanted a retrial because he said his rights were violated when the prosecutor asked some leading racist questions.
According to Reuters
Sotomayor took issue with the question asked by the prosecutor, identified in the trial transcript as Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Ponder.
While questioning an African-American defendant in a drug case, Ponder asked: “You’ve got African-Americans, you’ve got Hispanics, you’ve got a bag full of money. Does that tell you – a light bulb doesn’t go off in your head and say, this is a drug deal?”
The first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, Sotomayor wrote that the prosecutor had “tapped a deep and sorry vein of racial prejudice that has run through the history of criminal justice in our nation.”
The question was “pernicious in its attempt to substitute racial stereotype for evidence,” she added. Sotomayor also accused the Obama administration of playing down the issue.
Justice Sotomayor said she never wants to see a case like this again. Her colleague, Justice Stephen Breyer, signed on to the statement as well. The Supreme Court ultimately did not take the case stating Calhoun had failed to raise his argument earlier in the appeals process, as required under the law. Sotomayor stated:
I write to dispel any doubt whether the court’s denial of certiorari should be understood to signal our tolerance of a federal prosecutor’s racially charged remark. It should not.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office said the attorney is being referred to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility, the department that handles allegations and attorney misconduct.