by Matthew Stanford, Senior Law Student at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law; Articles & Essays Editor of the California Law Review and President of the ACS Student Chapter at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law
To the surprise of no one, the first presidential debate was short on substance, long on bluster. But one real issue that emerged from the spin-induced haze was the constitutionality of “stop-and-frisk.”
During the debate, moderator Lester Holt suggested that the controversial and long used police practice of stopping people on the street and patting them down for weapons had been deemed “unconstitutional in New York, because it largely singled out black and Hispanic young men.”
An onslaught of Trump and Clinton surrogates followed with their respective positions on the constitutional upshot of U.S. District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin’s 2013 decision.
Prognostications about the narrow ruling’s certain demise on appeal––that is, if the appeal had continued to fruition––inevitably led to accusations of moderator bias. Most notably, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani penned an op-ed suggesting that the Second Circuit’s removal of Judge Scheindlin from the case amounted to a reversal of her underlying ruling. To be sure, that logic is flawed: removing a judge is an administrative decision, not a ruling on the merits.
But a more disturbing trend has emerged from the week’s stop-and-frisk chatter. Far from discussing the merits of the decades-old doctrine that allows police discretion to stop people on the street, the campaigns prefer instead to carry on with the punch and parry about moderator bias and candidate performance––sacrificing yet another critical discussion on the altar of media ratings that has come to define contemporary electoral culture.