L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 93, October 9, 2000
High Court Hears Arguments on Indianapolis Drug Checkpoints
by Vin Suprynowicz
Special to TLE
The U.S. Supreme Court began its fall session Oct. 2 with 47 cases on the docket to be heard ... so far.
It may be a good sign that the court starts off by biting off a sizeable chunk of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence -- City of Indianapolis vs. Edmond (case 99-1030.)
In July of 1999, Indianapolis police suspended their practice of setting up roadblocks to facilitate random drug inspections of motorists along interstates and city streets, after the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that this was an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The city appealed. (Sadly if predictably, the Clinton administration has also now joined Indianapolis in its attempts to gut the Bill of Rights.)
In its initial ruling, the appeals court noted the Supreme Court has upheld sobriety and border checkpoints, in which police look for suspected drunken drivers and for illegal immigrants.
But this case is different because there is no immediacy, as opposed to random searches designed to nab drunks who pose an immediate danger to fellow motorists. "Indianapolis does not claim to be concerned with protecting highway safety against drivers high on drugs," the appeals court noted.
The case is, in reality, a class-action lawsuit brought by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union on behalf of James Edmond and Joell Palmer, two motorists stopped but not arrested at the roadblocks.
Edmond reports that, although a drug-sniffing dog gave no indication of the presence of drugs, police thoroughly searched his car's interior -- even going so far as to disassemble and inspect the inside of a flashlight.
Palmer reports he was ordered out of his vehicle and frisked by officers, even though he did not waive his Fourth Amendment rights.
Palmer further reports the police officer at the roadblock told him he "had no rights."
Unfortunately, that report is no longer hard to believe.
What's most pitiful about such cases is the kind of hair-splitting they allow the high court to indulge in (though this is hardly the fault of the plaintiff attorneys, forced to acknowledge that hair-splitting is the best they're likely to get, when it comes to a political hot-button issue like "drugs.")
Imagine the popular outrage if the court continually parsed and shaved down some of our _other_ constitutional rights -- say, freedom of the press or of religion -- the way they have taken to whittling down the Second Amendment, the Fourth, and the 14th.
In that hypothetical alternative reality, a federal ban on messianic or revivalist churches might be judged OK because of the "overriding government concern" with protecting potential parishioners against another Jim Jones or another "Heaven's Gate" suicide cult -- while our alternative-universe "Bizarro" court would busy itself drawing fine and arbitrary distinctions based on stained glass and the color and length of choir robes in order to justify its finding that plain old Presbyterians and Catholics need not participate in the new government registry of "dangerous religion licensees" ... yet.
Or, banning books that teach people how to repair firearms might receive the court's OK given the government's "pressing mandate to stop the trade in 'illegal' firearms," while "Last of the Mohicans" would still be allowable in libraries despite the lamentable way it celebrates facility with firearms ... providing it's shelved where only adults can find it, of course.
Americans would rightly regard such "partial" book censorship or regulation of religion based on hair-splitting distinctions as a dangerous whittling down of our _First_ Amendment rights. Barring only child pornography and cults that practice cannibalism and ritual slaughter (crimes in and of themselves), all Americans know they have a right to attend the church, temple or synagogue of their choice without being subject to police officers "dropping in" without a warrant "just to check" our freedom-of-religion permits or "just to make sure" the sermon doesn't violate some new government edict -- the same we we're free to buy and read any book we please.
So why aren't we as jealous of our other liberties?
How on earth were so many Americans -- especially the lawyers we now call judges -- convinced that _some_ of the planks of the Bill of Rights don't mean what they say ... including the one that guarantees us "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated. ..."
What good does it do to say the government can't inspect what we choose to keep in our homes and offices ... if its agents are free to stop us on a whim on the street, pat us down, and even require us to perform for them an "observed bowel movement" (as the courts now permit Customs and DEA agents to demand at our airports)?
The Bill of Rights is the highest law of the land. If government police find various newly invented government proscriptions difficult or impossible to enforce without trampling the privacy guaranteed us by these amendments, then the proper course is not to start whittling down our freedoms, but instead to re-evaluate the wisdom and viability of the fruitless and counterproductive government intervention in question.
If a crime has no immediately indentifiable victim, it is indeed hard to detect and prosecute. So why try?