Experts and political candidates are still trying to sort out the implications of a federal appellate court ruling in the landmark stop-and-frisk case, Floyd v. New York, which asserted that stop-and-frisk tactics of the New York Police Department violated the constitutional rights of minorities. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit removed U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin from the case and assigned it to U.S. District Judge Analisa J. Torres. In doing so, the Court effectively put on hold a set of policing changes that Judge Scheindlin laid out in her ruling in August.
Legal experts are puzzled by the unusual decision to remove Judge Scheindlin because the City of New York did not ask for her to be removed from the case, nor did it claim any impropriety in her conduct. Brooklyn Law School professors have been sought after by the media to comment on this ruling and its controversial aftermath.
WNYC’s Amy Eddings interviewed Professor Elizabeth Schneider, a noted civil procedure authority, on “All Things Considered.” Eddings asked Professor Schneider to comment on journalist Jeffrey Toobin’s statement that the appellate judges were trying to embarrass Judge Scheindlin because she “is not a part of that 'boys' club' politics.” “It’s hard not to agree with Toobin because it seems that the court was reaching out,” said Professor Schneider. “The city had not asked for her to be removed and never objected to her conduct, so it is hard to understand what they did in the context of the procedural rules that normally operate in this matter.” As to the future of the case, Schneider explained that she thought it would remain in Torres’ docket and was confident in her abilities given that she was a judge in criminal court: “She has a lot of experience with stop-and-frisk and police misconduct.”
Professor Anita Bernstein, a nationally recognized expert on professional responsibility, was quoted in a Newsday article entitled “New Stop-Frisk Judge,” which reported on the removal of Judge Scheindlin from the case and the appointment of Judge Torres, who was once a state judge in criminal court. Professor Bernstein said that Judge Scheindlin’s behavior wasn’t “extreme” enough to merit removal, but that her “public rejoinders to the city exposed her to retribution in a high-stakes case.”
In August, Professor Bennett Capers hailed Judge Scheindlin’s ruling in a New York Times op-ed. According to Professor Capers, the NYPD has stopped more than four million individuals since 2004, approximately 84 percent of whom have been black or Hispanic. He dismantled the reasoning behind racially motivated stop-and-frisks, citing sheer numbers — only about 6 of 100 stops result in arrests — and the more subtle ramifications of community distrust. Not that stop-and-frisk should be scrapped, Capers noted — “good police work can and must be driven by reasonable suspicion. Instead, the New York Police Department has watered down the standard so that almost any black or Hispanic male can be deemed suspicious without need for further investigation,” he wrote. “That means me. Now imagine if it meant you, too.”
Scheindlin appointed BLS Professors Capers and William Hellerstein to a new panel that was charged with overseeing changes to the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policies. They joined 11 other members of the academic advisory council. Professor Capers was appointed chair of this panel.