'Driving While Black' and (All) Other Traffic Offenses: The Supreme Court and Pretextual Traffic Stops
39 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 1997
Under a Constitution that restrains the government vis-a-vis the individual and that puts some limits on what the authorities may do in the pursuit of the guilty, the power of the police to stop any particular driver, at almost any time, it seems oddly out of place. And with the words "equal justice under law" carved into the stone of the Supreme Court itself, one might think that the use of police power in one of its rawest forms against members of particular racial or ethnic groups might prompt the Court to show some interest in curbing such abuses. The defendant-petitioners presented both of these arguments-the almost arbitrary power over any driver inherent in the "could have" approach, and the racially biased use of traffic stops-to the Court. Yet the Court paid little attention to these obvious implications of its decision. Whren is more than a missed opportunity for the Court to rein in some police practices that strike at the heart of the ideas of freedom and equal treatment; Whren represents a clear step in the other direction-toward authoritarianism, toward racist policing, and toward a view of minorities as criminals, rather than citizens.
Keywords: Fourth Amendment, civil rights, racial discrimination, Whren v. United States, pretextual traffic stop, reasonable suspicion, search, seizure
JEL Classification: K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation