Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor took the unusual step of adding a personal statement to the Court’s denial to hear a case on appeal Monday.
The appeal was denied for procedural issues, but Sotomayor, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, called out a federal prosecutor from Texas for his “racially charged” remarks to African-American defendant Bongani Calhoun during cross examination in the trial.
According to CNN, Calhoun was convicted and is serving 15 years in prison for his role in a federal drug conspiracy case.
“The issue,” CNN reported, “was whether [Calhoun] was a willing participant, or just happened to be present when others attempted to purchase narcotics from undercover federal agents.”
Calhoun claimed he had no idea he was involved in a drug deal, prompting the prosecutor to ask him:
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?”
“By suggesting that race should play a role in establishing a defendant’s criminal intent,” Sotomayor wrote, “the prosecutor here tapped a deep and sorry vein of racial prejudice that has run through the history of criminal justice in our Nation.”
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. Such conduct diminishes the dignity of our criminal justice system and undermines respect for the rule of law. We expect the Government to seek justice, not to fan the flames of fear and prejudice.
“The justices in rejecting Calhoun’s appeal apparently accepted the lower appeals court’s conclusion that the inmate never established that the insensitive comments necessarily prejudiced the outcome of the criminal trial,” CNN explained.
Though Sotomayor agreed with the decision to deny Calhoun’s petition, she explained why she was compelled to write a personal statement. She said,
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.
I hope never to see a case like this again.