January 10, 2006

Samuel Alito Opinions in Cases Involving Race

Carroll Andrew Morse

As an antidote to Senator Edward Kennedy's attempt to use Clintonian language parsing to distort the record of Samuel Alito, here are a few opinions written by Judge Alito in civil rights cases where he sided with plantiffs in civil proceedings and defendants in criminal ones. An unsigned editorial from the Washington Post provides an overview...

[Judge Alito] has sided with civil rights plaintiffs in cases involving race. He dissented from a decision barring a race bias lawsuit because of a statute of limitations -- not what you would expect from a judge unblinkingly keen to protect businesses from civil rights litigation. He has voted to overturn convictions because of racial manipulations of juries. And he declared unlawful the search of a car whose driver had been stopped because police were looking for two black men driving a black sports car following an armed robbery; such vague knowledge, he wrote, "could not justify arrest [of] any African-American man who happened to drive by in any type of black sports car."
The statute of limitations case was Zubi v. AT&T Corp (2000). Madhat Zubi sued AT&T, claiming that he had been fired because of race. The district court dismissed Zubi's suit on the grounds that he had waited too long to file suit. Alito disagreed with the dismissal on the grounds that the court had misinterpreted a recent change in the law extending the statute of limitations in race-discrimination cases from two to four years. The Supreme Court eventaully agreed with Alito's position. This was a clear-cut case of Judge Alito siding with a “little guy” versus the big, confusing Federal bureaucracy.

The jury case was Brinson v. Vaughn (2005). Curtis Brinson, an African-American, was convicted of murder by a jury after the prosecution used 13 out of 14 peremptory strikes to keep African-Americans off of the jury. The lower appeals court held that Brinson could not have been the victim of racial discrimination because "the victim, the perpetrator and witnesses [were] black". In his opinion, Alito declared this rationale “clearly wrong” and remanded the case to the trial court.

The unlawful search case was United States v. Kithcart (1998). Jesse Kithcart, an African-American, was stopped by the police about an hour after a series of robberies began and was eventually convicted of a firearms charge. The officier who made the stop testified that she stopped Kithcart because he was the first African-American male she had seen after hearing the reports of the robberies. Judge Alito held that evidence from the traffic stop was not admissible against Kithcart because being a black man driving a sports car an hour after a robbery occurs does not provide probable cause for a traffic stop...

The district court erred in concluding that there was probable cause to arrest and search Kithcart....The mere fact that Kithcart is black and the perpetrators had been described as two black males is plainly insufficient.
It is not a crime to drive-while-black in Samuel Alito’s America.