While I tend to agree with the Court’s essential ruling in Smith v. Harris I think the way in which they got there is highly suspect. The Court ruled in this case on a summary judgement, which is to say the Court ruled in this case without a full trial in the lower courts. The Court normally opts to “view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the [summary judgment] motion.” (Internal quotations omitted.) In this case, the plaintiff, Victor Harris, claimed that there was very little threat to the public during his high speed chase. Deputy Timothy Scott claims that there was a significant risk and the Court sides with him based on the videotape that they posted online.
There was definitely a significant risk to the public during the high-speed pursuit brought about by Harris. The Court made the right decision in holding that Deputy Smith was justified in putting Harris at risk in order to minimize the risk Harris posed to innocent bystanders.
The Court veered into dangerous territory when it went on a fact-finding mission by rejecting Harris’s account of the events. The Court’s argument could be made just as easily by simply asserting that there was a conflict in the stories but there was enough reason to believe that there could have been a threat to the public. Instead, the Court chose to completely reject Harris’s view of the events and rule on the facts of the case. Any Con. Law 101 student would tell you that the Supreme Court never rules on the facts or merits of a case. Instead, the Court has almost always chosen to adhere to its standards of review that dictate that a summary judgement will be based on the facts of the case most favorable to those arguing against review.
The Court normally tries to rule as narrowly as possible in order to avoid altering broad swaths of precedent, but this case seems to laugh in the face of that standard. The Court has opened itself up to serious questions of fact in future cases that will only offer the Court another way to dodge ruling on the central issue in many important cases.
Justice Stevens was more than justified for penning a scathing dissent that calls his colleges ‘eight jurors’ who seriously altered precedent.
Stevens calls his colleagues out for being too young to understand the intricacies of driving:
I can only conclude that my colleagues were unduly frightened by two or three images on the tape that looked like bursts of lightning or explosions, but were in fact merely the headlights of vehicles zooming by in the opposite lane. Had they learned to drive when most high-speed driving took place on two-lane roads rather than on super-highways —when split-second judgments about the risk of passing a slowpoke in the face of oncoming traffic were routine— — they might well have reacted to the videotape more dispassionately
Stevens also sarcastically comments on the legitimate harm posed to bystanders with footnote 8:
It is unclear whether, in referring to innocent bystanders, the Court is referring to the motorists driving unfazed in the opposite direction or to the drivers who pulled over to the side of the road, safely out of respondent’s and petitioner’s path.
Sometimes Justices on the Supreme Court seem like bitter little high school girls…