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Supreme Court friction, a justice's visceral reaction to a ruling

A United States Supreme Court judge issued some stern words last week in a case she was on the losing end of, with her comments in a 5-3 decision being termed a "fiery dissent" by a CNN article discussing the case.

The case outcome was flatly wrong, charged Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with the precedent it sets enabling police officers an enhanced capability to "corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives."

In a nutshell, here is what incensed Sotomayor and prompted her scathing dissent of a majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas: the overruling of a state court decision holding that evidence was inadmissible in a drug case because a police officer's initial stop of an individual lacked probable cause.

Put another way: The officer lacked any reasonable suspicion that the person he detained was engaged in any criminal activity. Because probable cause is a bedrock principle and legal presumption under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the lower court found its lack to be a material omission in the case. It threw out incriminating drug evidence the officer allegedly discovered pursuant to his search of the detained party.

The nation's highest court overturned the ruling, based on the fact that the defendant turned out to be the subject of an outstanding traffic warrant. Thomas wrote that the warrant's existence justified the admissibility of the seized drug evidence, notwithstanding any bona-fide reason to detain the individual in the first place. Indeed, and while admitting the incriminating evidence, the court did find the initial stop to be unconstitutional.

Sotomayor minced no words in her sharp rebuke of the holding.

"[D]iscovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer's violation of your Fourth Amendment rights," she wrote.

CNN noted that Sotomayor's criticism fundamentally revealed her concern that the case would grant law enforcers sweeping new powers "to violate American's constitutional rights if they can find any small mark against them."

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