People For the American Way

People For FAQs: What is the Supreme Court Case Torres v. Madrid?

News and Analysis

As our nation has watched the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minnesota police officer who killed George Floyd last May, more stories of police violence and killing – underscored by anti-Black racism – have erupted in the news. When we are inundated with these images of law enforcement’s persistent brutality and racism, it can be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, there are recent developments that will have significant impacts on providing greater accountability and a better model for law enforcement on both the national and local scale.

First, the Supreme Court released a decision in the case Torres v. Madrid that closed a loophole some conservative judges had made in the Fourth Amendment. The Court determined that if law enforcement uses any kind of bodily force to apprehend someone but the person is able to flee, that is still considered a seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

As part of People For the American Way’s ongoing advocacy regarding the reimagining of public safety and law enforcement, we spoke with Ethan P. Fallon, Managing Associate at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, which represented the Petitioner in Torres v. Madrid, Roxanne Torres. In the video, Fallon gives an insider’s overview of the case and its significance for police accountability going forward.

The Supreme Court’s ruling is a critical reminder of the Constitution’s guarantee that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons … shall not be violated” in any circumstance, whether or not the attempted seizure was successful.

In addition to the video, you can find a detailed entry about the case in our Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears series, which goes into greater depth about far-right Justice Neil Gorsuch’s dissent from the majority.

The second piece of heartening news was the unanimously passed “Reimagining Public Safety” resolution in Ithaca, New York, an initiative spearheaded by Mayor Svante Myrick, a member of our Young Elected Officials network. The plan makes major changes to the way the city and county approach law enforcement procedures, including the establishment of a “Department of Public Safety” to replace the Ithaca Police Department and other specific measures aimed at increasing accountability for officers’ actions. Efforts like this provide a blueprint for creative approaches to reimagining public safety in cities and counties across the country.

Both of these items herald a time of slow but sure progress in changing the way that injustice and white supremacy are currently baked into our law enforcement systems. More than 140 new police oversight and public safety laws have been passed in 30 states, and we will be working alongside our Young Elected Officials to continue ramping up these efforts. Stay tuned to People For’s channels for ways you can get involved in work to reimagine public safety nationwide as we seek real change and accountability at the federal and local level.


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