Monday, March 23, 2015

Sheehan vs SF: Waiting on Transcripts

Oral arguments for Sheehan vs San Francisco will begin at the Supreme Court in a few hours (it's the
second case of the day). It will provide the opportunity for the court to do a number of things.

Here are the questions before the court:
Whether Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires law enforcement officers to provide accommodations to an armed, violent, and mentally ill suspect in the course of bringing the suspect into custody; and
Whether it was clearly established that even where an exception to the warrant requirement applied, an entry into a residence could be unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment by reason of the anticipated resistance of an armed and violent suspect within.
What might the court do? They could ...


  1. Affirm or severely limit the protections of the ADA for people with disabilities as they apply to policing.
  2. More clearly define the limits of qualified immunity (the Fourth Amendment issue).
  3. Carve out a narrow ruling that sends the case back to the Ninth Circuit and doesn't establish wide precedent either way.
Three, I think, is the best we can hope for. I am not a lawyer nor a Supreme Court expert, but I did talk to a lot of lawyers, though, previewing the case for Al Jazeera America yesterday. I argued: "This case will determine to what extent police can be held accountable to the best practices of their profession." Please consider reading and sharing my piece.

There are best practices. The police did not follow them. Their claims as to the "public safety" risk that Sheehan presented consistently run counter to the facts, but the law in fact allows them to make up what a "reasonable officer" might have imagined, even if neither officer at the time believed it. 

Here's a very useful preview, especially in its summary of the US Government position on the ADA. My emphasis:
The United States’ ADA argument asks the Court walk a line between the Petitioners’ and Respondent’s arguments. Title II requires officers to provide reasonable accommodations during the arrest of mentally disabled individuals. Yet, if objective evidence causes concerns about public or police safety, then it might not be reasonable for police to provide accommodations (i.e., delay immediate entry to arrest). In those situations, safety can outweigh accommodations. And despite the importance of safety, the United States refused to make the safety exception ironclad, arguing that a plaintiff “should remain free to show that special circumstances rendered a modification reasonable.” (U.S. Amicus Br. 7.) For this case, the United States asked the Court to pass on rendering judgment on the reasonableness of the officers’ actions by instead remanding the case to the Ninth Circuit to determine whether Respondent, who would bear the burden of proof establishing that “special circumstances” were present, was owed reasonable modification despite the safety risks she posed.
In terms of the ADA, that's pretty much what I hope for. That the court affirms the right of a person like Sheehan to argue that she was owed a reasonable accommodation. I'd prefer a much stronger position from the government and for the court to enhance the power of the ADA, but I don't expect that.

More later once the transcript is up. Also, I continue to maintain it is ludicrous that SCOTUS isn't live-streamed.

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