Created on Tuesday, 10 April 2012 Written by THE BELLEFONTAINE EXAMINER STAFF
Did you hear about that recent case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court involving a broad overreach of authoritarian power?
I can’t believe the justices required even a full minute to consider the merits of the case. The proper decision should be obvious.
Inherent to this case is whether or not the government and/or any one of its departments can tell citizens what to do. It seems to me provisions contained within the Constitution prohibit such a clear overreach of power — subjecting American residents to the government’s will and stripping them of any semblance of personal autonomy.
Most of the people with whom I’ve spoken wish only their dysfunctional government would leave them be. This ineffective bureaucracy has proven time and again it works not in the best interest of the people, but instead in the best interests of those pulling the strings in the puppet show.
Certainly, the Supreme Court, the keeper of the Constitution, can right this wrong.
And I’m not talking about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, either.
In a 5-4 decision handed down April 2, the high court ruled those arrested for any offense, however minor, may be strip searched before being admitted to jail.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy claimed that safety concerns outweigh personal privacy rights.
The case originated from a New Jersey man who was strip searched after he was mistakenly arrested on an outstanding warrant for failure to appear and failure to pay a fine — both issues he had resolved prior to his traffic stop.
The defendant in question, a black man named Albert Florence, produced documentation supporting his claim the warrant had been resolved to New Jersey police officers the night he was arrested.
Instead of being released, Mr. Florence was strip searched not once, but twice by separate facilities over a six-day period before the apparently incompetent New Jersey courts and police system figured out that, in fact, this was an innocent man who had paid his debt to society.
After a week in jail, he was released, and no additional charges were filed.
This second class citizen should fancy himself fortunate Big Brother saw fit to let him go at all.
At the heart of the majority’s ruling is the concept that safety concerns outweigh personal privacy rights.
“There is a substantial interest in preventing any new inmate, either of his own will or as a result of coercion, from putting all who live or work at these institutions at even greater risk when he is admitted to the general population,” Justice Kennedy wrote.
Such an argument is hardly new and has functioned as the crux for multiple big-government pieces of legislation and policy that has also included the Patriot Act and Department of Homeland Security — another bloated, wasteful expansion of the federal government.
Further, such rationale is the basis for any number of incidents of racial profiling across the country; from the harsh “stop-and-frisk” tactics disproportionately administered to black and brown people in New York City, to the unconstitutional immigration laws in Arizona.
George Zimmerman probably thought he was protecting the public good the night he stalked Trayvon Martin through a gated Florida community minutes before shooting the unarmed teenager.
I submit to you that any number of thwarted incidents of violence, gang activity or even terrorism do not make up for the civil liberty violations of even one American citizen, especially when the entity doing the violating is the very government whose primary function is to protect its citizens.
If police can strip search any person taken to jail, whether or not that person was justifiably taken into custody in the first place, then each traffic stop could be accompanied by a complete search of the suspect and her or his vehicle.
I’ve watched enough Lockup: Extended Stay to know that inmates, sometimes, even regularly, engage in dangerous, violent behavior.
And if the overall safety of the population hinges on strip searching a convicted felon because he’s threatening to shank his bunk mate or a corrections officer, then I can see the point in performing such an invasive search.
However, “the inmate might be trying to smuggle in something,” is not a good reason to conduct a strip search. Especially when previous studies have shown that such extra precautions are nearly always disproportionately administered to people of color.
School shootings have regrettably been back in the news lately. Using this court’s reasoning, every student or visitor to enter any public school should be subjected to a strip search because they might have a gun.
This ruling is ridiculous.
And it’s made even more ridiculous by the conservative court’s recent handling of the Affordable Care Act, specifically the mandate requiring most citizens to purchase health insurance.
The court’s four most conservative justices seemed to decry the mandate as government power run amok.
“All bets are off now,” Chief Justice John Roberts said during oral arguments regarding the individual mandate.
Justice Antonin Scalia compared the purchase of health insurance to the purchase of broccoli, implying if the government could force you to do the former, it also had the power to do the latter.
Thank God Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Kennedy, Roberts and Scalia are around to guarantee the government will never compel us to eat broccoli, even while it aids the government’s efforts to make us subject to strip searches upon request.