A federal appeals court on Thursday put the brakes on a judge’s ruling that ordered New York City’s police department to reform its controversial stop-and-frisk policy — and even assigned the case to a different judge.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — postponing the lower court's ruling pending an appeal — agreed with New York City's bid to delay any reforms to the policy, which U.S. Judge Shira Scheindlin's ruled in August unconstitutionally violated the rights of minorities.
The appeals court said that Scheindlin compromised the appearance of impartiality by encouraging a class-action lawsuit over the stop-and-frisk tactic and by giving media interviews in which she answered critics of her ruling, the court said.
“Upon review of the record in these cases, we conclude that the District Judge ran afoul of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, Canon 2 ('A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities.'),” the appeals court wrote (read the order here in PDF).
Scheindlin of Manhattan federal court had ruled Aug. 12 that NYPD's "stop and frisk" tactic amounted to "indirect racial profiling" and as implemented violates the constitutional rights of blacks and Hispanics. She cited the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law.
Scheindlin appointed an outside lawyer to oversee changes to the program and ordered a test in which officers would wear cameras in one precinct in each of New York’s five boroughs to record their encounters with civilians.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had vowed to challenge the judge's ruling, which he called dangerous, to the Supreme Court if necessary. He said that the city's police officers were following crime regardless of where it occurred.
But Scheindlin noted that the overwhelming majority of stops in New York — 88 percent — result in no arrests or tickets.
Four men had sued the city, saying that they were unfairly targeted by police.
The appeals court order was a serious slap at Scheindlin. It concluded that she improperly told lawyers involved in a similar lawsuit: "[I]f you got proof of inappropriate racial profiling in a good constitutional case, why don't you bring a lawsuit? ...
[W]hat I am trying to say, I am sure I am going to get in trouble for saying it, for $65 you can bring that lawsuit."
The appeals court also said she improperly made comments in three interviews responding to criticism of her ruling in the stop and frisk case.
She told The Associated Press, speaking of the city government, "I know I'm not their favorite judge." She told the New York Law Journal that many judges are reluctant to issue controversial rulings: "They are fearful or they want a promotion or whatever it is." And she gave a long interview to The New Yorker magazine.
Thursday's order also took the highly unusual step of assigning the case to a different district court judge while the appeals court decides on the next move.
The head of New York's legal department, Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo, said the city was pleased with the appeals court order. "The ruling of unconstitutional practices is no longer operative, and that question will now receive a fresh and independent both by the appeals court and then, if necessary, by a different trial court judge," he said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.