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Unqualified Impunity: Amy Coney Barrett Once Ruled That a Cop Wasn't Responsible for a Black Teenager's Death Because Breathing Isn't a Constitutional Right

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Image for article titled Unqualified Impunity: Amy Coney Barrett Once Ruled That a Cop Wasn't Responsible for a Black Teenager's Death Because Breathing Isn't a Constitutional Right
Photo: Tom WIlliams/CQ-Roll Call (Getty Images)

Amy Coney Barrett is a right-wing extremist.

She does not believe George Floyd had a right to breathe. She doesn’t believe that screaming the n-word is necessarily “hostile.”

She does believe in Jesus, though.

While Judge Barrett has displayed a Mitch McConnell-like ability to evade direct questions about her legal opinions on a woman’s right to control her own body, whether or not poor people deserve to die if they can’t afford healthcare, or if Social Security is constitutional, we already know Barrett’s judicial positions in one important area of the law. As a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeal’s Seventh Circuit, the right-wing star of the literal handmaid’s tale has repeatedly joined her fellow conservative bench mates in asserting the right of police to do whatever they want—the Constitution be damned.

When it comes to police brutality, one does not have to speculate or engage in conjecture to know the opinion of the woman set to take Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on America’s highest court. Barrett may be able to duck and dodge questions about her well-documented anti-choice stance or her pro-death healthcare views, but her judicial record makes one thing obvious:

Amy Coney Barrett clearly does not believe Black lives matter.

He Couldn’t Breathe

On Sept. 26, 2015, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers responded to a call after a loss prevention officer alleged that eighteen-year-old Terrell Day had stolen a watch from the Burlington Coat Factory at Indianapolis’ Washington Square Mall. Day ran out of the mall, followed by a police officer and a security guard who said that Day was carrying a gun, according to the Indianapolis Star.

When the discount outlet watch recovery team caught up with Day, he had collapsed on a grassy slope across the street. IMPD officer Randall Denny arrived on the scene and noticed that the 312-pound teenager had defecated on himself and was “sweating and breathing heavily.” Officer Denny handcuffed Day, told him to take a few deep breaths and sat the teen in an “upright seated position.” But Day, still out of breath, kept laying down and eventually rolled down the slope with his hands cuffed behind his back. “At this point, the gun was no longer on Day’s person but was lying in the grass a few feet away and out of his reach,” according to the Seventh Circuit ruling.

Then Sgt. Franklin Wooten arrived.

“Day complained to Sergeant Wooten that he could not breathe,” reads the circuit court opinion. “Sergeant Wooten was skeptical of these complaints because Day also claimed to have done nothing wrong and was asking to be released. All the same, Sergeant Wooten called for an ambulance to evaluate Day approximately five minutes after Day was initially detained. After paramedics said Day didn’t go to the hospital, Wooten signed a form that said Day refused treatment,” placed another set of handcuffs on Day and called for a police wagon to transport Day to jail. When the wagon arrived, the officers tried to lift Day, but he was unresponsive. The driver called a second ambulance.

But Wooten waited.

Wooten waited while Day lay on the ground in his own feces. Wooten waited while Day complained that he couldn’t breathe. Wooten waited until Day was a listless Black thing. Sgt. Franklin Wooten, who received CPR training by the IMPD that specifically informed him about the dangers of positional asphyxiation, which it said can occur “when a suspect, especially a larger one, is placed on their chest or stomach, with the suspect’s arms and legs restrained behind the back,” waited while Day lay on the ground in his own feces, handcuffed twice, complaining that he couldn’t breathe...

For forty-two minutes.

When a coroner arrived on the scene, he saw no visible signs of trauma but when he saw the handcuffs still on Day, he immediately knew what had happened. The autopsy report verified it. Eighteen-year-old Terrell Day’s official cause of death was listed as “Sudden Cardiac Death.” But it wasn’t just a heart attack.

“Listed as a contributing cause,” writes the Indianapolis Star’s Crystal Hill, “was Day’s hands being cuffed behind his back.”

In May 2019, a federal District Court agreed that Terrell Day’s mother, Shanika Day, had the right to sue Franklin Wooten, ruling that “reasonable officers would know they were violating an established right by leaving Day’s hands cuffed behind his back after he complained of difficulty breathing.”

But then Wooten appealed and Amy stepped up.

The most conservative judge on the most conservative court.

Amy Coney Barrett is a right-wing radical.

Looking at Barrett’s judicial record, Five Thirty-Eight didn’t just categorize her as a right-leaning justice on one of America’s most conservative courts. They concluded that “Barrett is one of the more conservative judges on the circuit — and maybe even the most conservative.”

And considering the other judges, that’s quite a statement.

When Franklin Wooten appealed to Barrett’s court, the Supreme Court nominee was flanked by two Reagan appointees who are still the greatest examples for packing the court with unqualified, conservative judges:

  • Daniel Anthony Manion: Like Barrett, Manion is a Notre Dame alumnus who is notorious for his inability to write, spell or quote the Constitution. Manion was a supporter of the radical, right-wing John Birch Society which, among other things, alleged Martin Luther King Jr. was a communist who wanted to institute a “Soviet Negro Republic.” At the time of Manion’s nomination, he received one of the lowest American Bar Association judgeship rankings in history.
  • Frank H. Easterbrook: His ABA ranking was even worse than Manion’s because some members said was outright “unqualified.” The Chicago Council of Lawyers called him an “arrogant and intolerant” judge who “disregards the facts or the law.”

But according to the data, Barrett is more of a right-wing radical than either of these mediocre white men. And it’s not just abortion rights. Barrett has displayed the most far-right ideology in the areas of civil rights, criminal rights and discrimination suits. So when Wooten appealed to the Seventh Circuit, Coney and her unqualified justices reached an astonishing conclusion:

Terrell Day didn’t have the right to breathe.

The court accepted every fact of the case but determined that Wooten shouldn’t even stand trial. They essentially ruled that Wooten was immune from the consequences of his actions because “the only right [Day] can assert would be the right of an out-of-breath arrestee to not have his hands cuffed behind his back after he complains of difficulty breathing.” However, the judges woefully admitted that they could “find no Seventh Circuit precedent clearly establishing such a right.”

They wrote that down on paper.

One of Shanika Day’s attorneys called it a “radical departure” from prior cases while co-counsel Faith Alvarez said the ruling put the burden of proof “on the person who’s dying. It’s no longer on the police to be trained.”

The Unknown Amy Barrett

This is not even the tip of the Amy Coney Barrett iceberg.

She has also written that being called a “stupid-ass nigger” by one’s work supervisor doesn’t necessarily constitute a hostile work environment. She also voted to deny employees of Autozone a rehearing after her colleagues ruled that the auto parts giant didn’t violate the civil rights of its Black employees by forcing them to work exclusively in Black neighborhoods. She wrote that gun rights are as important as voting rights.

In a campus sexual assault appeals case, she literally argued against believing women. In a separate decision, a woman won a lawsuit after she sued for being “repeatedly raped by a prison guard.” A circuit court ruled that the prison shared responsibility for the sexual assaults.

Amy Comey Barrett voted to overturn it.

In a unanimous decision, Amy and the Conservative Court Jesters decided that the prison and the county could not be held liable because the numerous rapes “fell outside of the guard’s official duties” and “were in no way actuated by a purpose to serve [the] county.”

There’s probably some other stuff too.

The problem is, we don’t know how much stuff.

“There is so much we still don’t know about Amy Coney Barrett because she has been less than one hundred percent forthcoming with the Senate about her past and refused to release her records from Notre Dame. That said, what we are learning about her public record as a judge is deeply disturbing,” said Kyle Herrig, president of government watchdog Accountable US in a statement to The Root. “The family of Terrell Day deserved justice for his death, instead Coney Barrett decided Mr. Day had no legal right to have his continued complaints about not being able to breathe addressed by the officers holding him in custody. This sort of judgment is dangerous and it does not belong in the high court.”

Anyway... Your next Supreme Court justice will probably be a right-wing zealot who believes that Jesus has a panty preference, and would rather have women die than have certain medical procedures—if they can afford them.

But don’t worry, just take a deep breath...

It might be illegal soon if Amy Coney Barrett gets her say.