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Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Case Involving Racial Profiling

By David G. Savage

The Supreme Court, showing little interest in the issue of racial profiling, refused Monday to hear a challenge to a small New York town’s decision to stop and question every young black man in the area as police looked for a crime suspect who was black.

The court also turned away a job bias claim from a Muslim woman who says her boss at a rental car agency told her she could not wear a full head scarf while serving customers. She later quit and sued the company for discrimination based on her religion.

The two cases were among more than 1,800 the court dismissed as it opened its new term.

Since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft, among others, have been quick to say that racial profiling and religious discrimination are wrong and should not be tolerated.

But the Supreme Court has steered clear of those issues for the past decade. The justices have not issued a single ruling on racial profiling or seized a chance to clarify the line between legitimate police searches and unconstitutional racial discrimination.

They have, however, set a high bar for those who claim they are victims of racial or religious bias by the government.

Five years ago, the justices ruled that a police officer’s true motive for stopping a motorist was irrelevant. If a driver commits even a trivial violation, such as failing to fully stop at a stop sign, police officers may pull over his car, even if they are motivated by racial bias or looking for drug dealers. In the case before the court, the justices rejected a bias claim from several young black men who were pulled over for pausing too long at a stop sign.

Also in 1996, the court ruled that plaintiffs in race bias cases need actual proof, not just a statistical pattern, before they can bring a claim of unequal treatment against police and prosecutors.

When combined, the two rulings closed the courthouse doors to most claims of racial bias.