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Opinion
Noah Feldman

Justices Try to Define a Traffic Stop

What's reasonable for a driver to expect if police want to conduct a drug search as part of a traffic stop?
Every dog has its day in court.

Every dog has its day in court.

Photographer: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Every so often when you’re watching a Supreme Court oral argument, you wish desperately that you could hit the pause button, take the lawyer aside and explain exactly what the lawyer should be saying in order to win the case -- and then hit play again. Reading the transcript of yesterday’s argument in Rodriguez v. U.S., a case about the permissibility of bringing a dog to sniff the car after a traffic stop, I had that feeling in spades.

The lawyer for the petitioner, Dennys Rodriguez, was Shannon P. O’Connor, the first assistant federal public defender in Omaha, Nebraska. Sometimes the justices take it easy on a lawyer who isn’t part of the elite Supreme Court bar. This was not one of those times. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy whipsawed O’Connor. Justice Sonia Sotomayor tried to help him out, at times literally giving him the answer he needed.