The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution suffers a defeat at the hands of the Supreme Court

As of today, the law of the land is re-interpreted such that law enforcement officers may burst into your house unannounced, even with guns drawn, so long as they have a search warrant. Just pray they have the right house. In the name of 9/11 and thanks to a Republican majority on the Supreme Court, we all take another step closer to a police state. And that’s not a good thing.

Update 6/20/06: CNN is reporting an AP story that “Federal and local police across the country — as well as some of the nation’s best-known companies — have been gathering Americans’ phone records from private data brokers without subpoenas or warrants.” What’s worse is, these infringements of civil liberties aren’t just recent–they cite a 1977 example from the Jon Benet Ramsey case. [Ed. note- the “Read More” text was not changed as of 6/20.]

Where will this trend end? Why has America, who fought two World Wars in the last century without resorting to such cowardly tactics, become the nation of the pre-emptive strike, warrantless government wire-tapping, indefinite detention without the protection of habeus corpus, secret military trials which side-step due process, and more? In the last decade, conservative administrations have tried to repeal Miranda rights. For what good reason? We’ve been hearing, “Trust us,” from various government sources for some time now. And the frightening McCartney-era saying, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of,” is rearing its ugly, specious head again. There are too many examples of government blunders to trust them, as a group, to act in the interest of the people. Put aside that tobacco companies are still selling their carcinogenic products and marketing them to children, thanks in large part to a powerful lobby; and that these products cost us all trillions in a broken health-care system. Ignore pretty much any law whose enactment or defeat was due to Washington lobbyists, rather than the interests of the American people.

We became the “Nanny State” long ago, when our government, at our own urging, assumed a parental role for us wayward, foolish children. We have forgotten as a people that with Freedom comes Responsibility. So we now enjoy the era of knee-jerk laws attempting to ensure nothing bad ever happens again. Consider the then-famous case of Jessica Dubroff, a 7-year-old student pilot who was killed while attempting a multi-stop cross-country flight with her father and her flight instructor. To combat such tragedies, Congress quickly considered banning children from touching the controls of airplanes. Instead, President Clinton signed a bill making it illegal for unlicensed pilots to set world records. World records for juvenile pilots hadn’t been kept for some time, even back then, but at least cooler heads did prevail.

The sad truth is, bad stuff happens. Accidents of every imaginable kind. Disease. Wars. Senseless deaths. Foolish deaths. Suicides. Murders. Pass all the laws you want; give up all the civil liberties you can, they’ll still keep happening. Ad-hoc lawmaking or “trading a little freedom for more security” won’t stop bad things from happening, nor should they try. Want less bad stuff to happen? Improve education. Increase funding into disease research. Build safer, greener cars. Foster an economy where anyone can live above the poverty level if they will work, so people have hope. Re-architect our money-is-power governmental process. Re-empower the middle class, instead of saddling it with more tax burden as the upper class heads off to the stratosphere. Action, not reaction. And remember: Bad stuff will keep happening. Sorry.

“Trust us.” I wonder what Richard Jewell, who was publicly fingered by the FBI as the criminal behind the Centennial Park bombing at the Atlantic City Olympics, would think of that. l recall well the ridicule he was held up to, for instance because he lived at home. I remember footage of the FBI searching his mother’s house, removing armloads of putative “evidence.” The sad truth is that Mr. Jewell was and is an American Hero, and he saved lives on that fateful night his own life was ruined by our government. Eric Rudolph later admitted to carrying out the attack. What would our recent Attorneys General, infamous for their “Trust us,” ideology, say to Mr. Jewell, or the late, innocent Mr. Mena? Police abuse of power is not a new topic, though it doesn’t get much media attention these days. Remember the priest who died while being pinned to the ground during a mistaken search in his home? I have read in the past about similar botched police raids where innocent victims have seen their cancer medication stomped on, or their pets similarly killed in front of their eyes, as if senseless violence somehow can accomplish anything, even if the raid’s targets were the correct persons.

And yet, somehow, our police need more leeway and less accountability today. When will it end?

According to tonight’s NPR coverage of the decision, the majority opinion today stated that police are better trained and more professional than they were when the “knock and annouce” law was relevant, back in the 1960s. The opposition wrote that police are better trained because of the law, and now there is less impetus for good police work. As I’ve written in this blog, I have been a victim of sloppy, clearly dishonest police work and a rubber-stamping court officer, and I’m a law-abiding, middle-aged white guy living in New Hampshire. I fear for those who live in areas of higher racial tension, and who live in areas where police authority is already in low regard. Does anyone remember why O. J. Simpson is still a free man? Do the words Detective Mark Fuhrman ring a bell?

Finally, I found this part of the majority opinion telling: Justice Antonin Scalia said disallowing evidence from every “knock-and-announce violation” by officers would lead to the “grave adverse consequence” of a flood of appeals by accused criminals seeking dismissal of their cases.

Accused criminals? By definition, criminals are individuals who have accused and found guilty in a court of law, not individuals whom the police merely visit in hopes of finding evidence. The accused in this case, and in the hypothetical cases Mr. Scalia imagines, have not been convicted. I think we’ve found the basis for Mr. Scalia’s logical misstep–if he knew a priori that a suspect was and would be proved guilty, then sure, expecting the police to obey the law while procuring evidence could be considered overkill. Mr. Scalia’s flawed thinking is the assumption that all citizens targeted by search warrants must be guilty, and therefore are criminals undeserving of Fourth Amendment protection. If the past is any indicator, some of these criminals will only be guilty of being the newest victims of mistaken identity by human law enforcement officers. Also, doesn’t this “flood of appeals” logic conflict with the “today’s police are better trained” line of reasoning? The Fourth Amendment isn’t a placeholder in the Bill of Rights, it has a vital role. If current and future police conduct triggers a flood of appeals, I believe the problem should be resolved by improved police conduct and appropriate judicial action on a case-by-case basis, not by reducing and marginalizing more American freedoms.

I could rant about this for many more pages, but I think this enough quixotic, shoveling-against-the-tide for one day. Some day, far in the future I suspect, the balance will be restored in our halls of power, and likely will swing to the opposite extreme. In the meantime, for these reasons and more, I fear for all of us.

The opinions expressed in Steve’s Peeves are intended to entertain and uplift. They may not be appropriate for young readers or the satirically challenged. Parental supervision is advised.

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One Comment on “The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution suffers a defeat at the hands of the Supreme Court”

  1. […] have written about the Supreme Court’s recent legalization of “no-knock” raids, and Justice Scalia’s specious assertion that the old law was no longer needed because modern […]

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