How the Justice Department Always Backs Officers at Supreme Court Level

Human Rights

Despite his public condemnations of police violence and the right-wing perception that he's instrumental in fanning the flames of racial animus, Eric Holder's Justice Department backs officers when they use force.

According to a piece in the New York Times, Holder's Justice Department has sided with the police every time an excessive-force case has reached the Supreme Court. While the department has notably opened up multiple civil rights investigations, it has also made it more difficult for citizens to sue the police and easier for cops to use their own discretion when firing their guns. The story quotes Manhattan civil rights attorney Ronald L. Kuby who insists that, despite its rhetoric, "There is an inherent conflict between people at the Justice Department trying to stop police abuses and other people at the Justice Department convincing the Supreme Court that police abuses should be excused."

In fact, the Justice Department intervenes in cop cases that don't even concern federal agents. Last year, Holder's department sided with the police in an Arkansas case where a driver and passenger had been shot 15 times, killing them both at the end of a car chase. Justice Department John F. Bash argued that, "there is some level of reckless driving in response to a police pursuit that authorizes the use of deadly force.” The overall opinion was written by Justice Samuel Alito: "The officers here put an end to what had already been a lengthy, high-speed pursuit that indisputably posed a danger both to the officers involved and to any civilians who happened to be nearby."

Cases like that make it harder and harder for citizens to prevail in future cases against the police. The lawyer for the driver in the Arkansas case, Larry Smith, explains that, "“A report can have an impact on a department for a time. But case law touches every officer in every department in the country.”

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