Naked Justice

Ladies and gentlemen, your local police are now allowed to strip-search you at-will.

Sound alarmist? Perhaps a little crazy? Maybe a tad over-stated? Well, as of today, despite the laws of ten states, the policies of federal authorities and bans from international human rights treaties, that is the precedent and the law of the land.

New Jersey resident Albert W. Florence found the 2005 strip-searches he endured after his wife’s car was stopped for speeding to be excessive. Florence was not aware of an outstanding warrant for a fine he had paid, but had not been recorded**. He spent a week in jail and endured two humiliating “visual inspections.” Understandably, he felt the need to seek redress via the court system.

Today, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the courts cannot “second-guess” correctional officers who are charged with the safety of detainees. They must also consider information pertinent to gang affiliations and the public health.

Which means forced, degrading nudity?

Not entirely. In the decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy does concede that they are not asserting a requirement for every new arrestee to be strip-searched – only that courts could not prohibit such searches should an officer deem them necessary.

This ruling seems to be in direct conflict with a minor document from our country’s history – The Constitution.

Amendment IV: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

For the sake of argument, let’s say the passenger in a car looks at an officer cross-eyed during a routine traffic stop and the officer feels he has “probable cause” for concern. So he looks into said passenger and due to a glitch in paperwork, he has an arrest warrant for an unpaid fine. So he’s strip-searched. For an unpaid fine.

An unpaid fine?! We’re strip-searching people for unpaid fines? Half the city of Chicago would qualify under the draconian parking ticket statutes here – myself included on occasion.

What about protesters? Can they be strip-searched now that HR 347 – aka the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 – makes hanging out near secret service personnel against the law?

Justice Stephen G. Breyer points out in the dissent that even before the signing of HR 347 a nun was strip-searched following an arrest during an anti-war protest.

Everybody comfortable strip-searching nuns? What about an individual riding a bicycle without an audible bell or driving with a noisy muffler? Do dead beat dads qualify?

Alright, that last individual might be satisfying to strip down in disgrace, but how about the others on that list? All were cited in briefs submitted to the court and quoted by Justice Breyer as people who had been subjected to “visual inspections.” Does anyone else feel just plain gross thinking about it?

From the dissent: the strip-searches allowed under this decision are “a serious affront to human dignity and to individual privacy.” Justice Breyer may never have said anything more true in his tenure on the bench.

Previously, according to Justice Breyer, the Fourth Amendment did not allow strip-searches of detainees accused of minor offenses – those not involving drugs or violence – unless officers had reason to believe there might be contraband.

Such restrictions are officially a thing of the past. So, how long before strip-searches move from the necessity column to the punishment column? With this decision as precedent, how would any police force reprimand officers for overreach? To anyone questioning the likelihood of overreach I ask: have you seen the videos from recent New York City protests?

All three branches of our government are now waging a war on The Constitution. The Bill of Rights is being sliced and diced; it’s hardly recognizable at this point. I can only assume as we now welcome the third branch of government to the table, knives in hand, that these laws and decisions are to serve as a deterrent against voicing our displeasure.

I am not deterred. I am angry. I feel violated – and I haven’t even had my anti-protest/speeding ticket/unpaid fine/noisy muffler strip-search yet.

Also I vote.

I do passionately agree that thanks to money in politics the policy distinctions between the parties are rapidly disintegrating. I even agree that neither party has a monopoly on the effort to dissolve our rights. HR 347 passed via voice vote in the Senate and the Patriot Act was passed and repeatedly renewed with bipartisan support.

But to those who say their vote in November has no meaning, to those who are disheartened and tempted to stay home, consider who selected the nine individuals who ruled today on your dignity and weigh heavily the consequences of who sits in the Oval Office:

Majority decision:

Justice John Roberts – appointed by President George W. Bush (R)

Justice Antonin Scalia – appointed by President Ronald Reagan (R)

Justice Samuel Alito – appointed by President George W. Bush (R)

Justice Clarence Thomas – appointed by President George H.W. Bush (R)

Justice Anthony Kennedy – appointed by President Ronald Reagan (R)

Dissenting:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg – appointed by President Bill Clinton (D)

Justice Stephen Breyer – appointed by President Bill Clinton (D)

Justice Elena Kagan – appointed by President Barack Obama (D)

Justice Sonia Sotomayor – appointed by President Barack Obama (D)

Update: Florence was aware of the fine/warrant situation and carried documentation from the state of New Jersey stating that he’d paid the fine. He was arrested anyway. He was not allowed to contact his pregnant wife and son for six days.

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Categories: Finding My Voice

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4 replies

  1. Katie,
    Nicely written article. What a scary ruling by the Supreme Court! Basically, any pervert with a tin star can strip search anyone if he “deems it necessary…”.
    Keep writing, Katie…

    Uncle Steve

  2. It’s concerning. Thanks for the interesting read.

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