Editor's note: This article has been updated since publication to reflect changes in the Floyd case.
Bill de Blasio, who is projected to skate into City Hall as New York’s next Mayor, has earned enormous voter support based, at least in part, on his early and unrelenting attacks on the New York Police Department’s controversial “Stop, Question and Frisk” policies. Now, the likely next mayor is set to become the putative defendant in Floyd v. City of New York, the landmark lawsuit that challenged and had seemed just months ago to end the policy on the grounds that it was unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.
On Thursday, just days before New York City’s mayoral election, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit blocked the remedies imposed by the trial judge who found in August that the department’s stop-and-frisk practices violated the constitutional rights of young black and Hispanic men who were stopped and searched without legal basis. The Second Circuit’s three appellate judges were also sharply critical of federal District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin, who presided at the Floyd trial, and took the rare step of removing her from the case and having it reassigned it to another judge, Analisa Torres.
Following a trial and deliberation period that lasted over seven months, Scheindlin had issued a lengthy decision analyzing the evidence and the law, concluding that changes had to be made in the way the NYPD did business; Scheindlin’s remedies included setting up a monitor position to to oversee wayward cops.
Following her August decision and order, Scheindlin issued a stay or delay in implementing it so the City could appeal. Earlier this week the appeals court criticized the City for its tardiness in seeking a permanent stay. But on Thursday they issued an order that de Blasio, as well as lawyers for the Floyd plaintiffs have called, “shocking” and “outrageous.”
While the three appellate judges were to consider only the stay, leaving other issues for the actual appeal, they nevertheless displayed uncommon hostility toward Judge Scheindlin's actions, findings, and even toward Scheindlin herself. In excoriating language from the bench, they found that she was not impartial, that she gave inappropriate interviews, and that she had improperly encouraged the litigation. That last point referred to the fact that three years ago Judge Scheindlin had indicated that she would be the judge if a lawsuit was commenced, since she had already heard a similar, “related” case which she had decided in favor of the City.
But according to one of the plaintiff’s lead attorneys, Jonathan Moore, she was the appropriate judge because a new case such as Floyd would test whether the City was in compliance with her orders in the original case, Davis v. City of New York. She was saying, according to Moore, “‘I have been with the case for eight years. I have to deal with the question of violations and deliberate indifference to constitutional issues.’”