As the 1996 election year commenced, the leading issues of the day included welfare reform, late-term abortions, Bosnia, immigration, drugs, taxes, the budget deficit, and the budget impasse that had shut parts of the federal government.' The "hot" national issues did not include judicial philosophy, federal judicial appointments, individual judges or particular judicial decisions.
Within weeks, however, that changed, thanks to a single judicial opinion. On January 22, 1996, United States District Judge Harold Baer, Jr., decided a pretrial motion to suppress evidence in the then (and now) obscure New York federal drug prosecution of a woman from Detroit named Carol Bayless. Judge Baer decided to suppress almost eighty pounds of cocaine and heroin that had, he determined, been seized illegally, and also to suppress Bayless' videotaped confession to being a drug courier, which was a fruit of the illegal seizure.
In response, to put it plainly, political hell broke loose. Critics seized on two aspects of Judge Baer's decision. One aspect was the obvious negative impact of the suppression decision on law enforcement in the particular case. By suppressing the drug evidence and the confession, Judge Baer effectively had ended the government's ability to prosecute the defendant, who had confessed post-arrest that she was a regular drug courier between New York and Detroit. The other aspect was Judge Baer's assertion, in his written opinion, that public knowledge of police corruption in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood made it reasonable, not suspicious, for people there to run when they see police officers looking at them.' For these reasons, Judge Baer and his decision were subjected to vociferous, sustained public criticism. Although he soon reconsidered his decision and determined less than three months later that the drug evidence could be used because it had been obtained legally, the political criticism of Judge Baer did not.