O'Reilly distorted court ruling, labeled judge "a loon"

››› ››› GABE WILDAU

On the July 21 broadcast of The Radio Factor, FOX News Channel host Bill O'Reilly distorted a recent federal court ruling that forbids New York City police from imposing mandatory bag searches on protesters at the Republican National Convention, to be held from August 30 to September 2. O'Reilly called United States District Judge Robert W. Sweet of Federal District Court in Manhattan -- a Carter appointee -- "a loon" because Sweet's ruling in Stauber v. The City of New York "says you can't search protesters out on the street."

In fact, Sweet's ruling allows searches based on police officers' reasonable suspicion of individuals; it only forbids the NYPD from imposing a policy of blanket searches of protesters in the absence of a specific threat against which such a policy would constitute a reasonable response.

On the July 21 Radio Factor, O'Reilly assailed Sweet: "The New York City judge -- who's a loon, by the way, in my opinion; we did this on the Factor last night -- says you can't search the protesters out on the street." Offering an example for his listeners, O'Reilly explained that if you're a protester at the convention "and you got a big bag, this crazy judge says well, the cops can't search the bag unless they have a -- a threat, a direct threat that you are carrying a bomb. Which is nuts." Addressing a caller, he asked, "If the cop thinks the bag's suspicious, they should be able to search it, don't you feel that way?"

O'Reilly's distortion was particularly egregious because he had devoted an entire segment to Stauber the previous evening on The O'Reilly Factor. During that segment, his guest, civil rights attorney Bill Goodman, attempted to correct O'Reilly's misinterpretation. Goodman explained to O'Reilly that "under any circumstance anywhere in the United States under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, if there's a reasonable suspicion, you can stop and question and frisk and search anybody." Stauber, Goodman continued, simply forbids "suspicionless, random stops, which is what the [New York City] police department was doing at earlier demonstrations, unless there is a real suspicion that at this event there's going to be, let's say, a terrorist event -- a terrorist incident."

Goodman's description of the ruling is accurate. Here's the relevant passage from Sweet's opinion in Stauber v. The City of New York:

[T]he evidence submitted by the defendants of the increased risk of violence or of threats to public safety that would be created from the failure to search the bags of demonstrators is overly vague.

[...]

The plaintiffs' claim for injunctive relief with respect to the bag search policy is granted, and the NYPD is hereby enjoined from searching the bags of all demonstrators without individualized suspicion at particular demonstrations without the showing of both a specific threat to public safety and an indication of how blanket searches could reduce that threat.

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Government, The Judiciary, Justice & Civil Liberties
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