Fourteen years ago, the Rehnquist court interrupted a string of law enforcement victories to rule that when looking for illegal drugs, the police couldn’t simply walk down the aisle of an intercity bus and squeeze the bags and soft-sided luggage on the overhead rack.
The common tactic amounted to an unconstitutional search, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the 7-to-2 majority in Bond v. United States. While passengers certainly expect that their luggage “may be handled,” the chief justice said, that expectation didn’t extend to supposing that anyone “will, as a matter of course, feel the bag in an exploratory manner.”
I remember puzzling over that decision. In one opinion after another, most written by Chief Justice Rehnquist, the Supreme Court had been allowing the police to write their own ticket when it came to detecting drug trafficking. Why draw the line at a duffel bag on a Greyhound bus?
Eventually, it occurred to me: The justices were passengers, too. Not on buses, for sure, but on Amtrak or the shuttle, and the notion that anyone with a badge could start randomly feeling up their carry-ons was deeply distasteful.
In another search case just three months earlier, all nine justices agreed that flight at the mere sight of a police officer could raise enough suspicion to justify the police in conducting a warrantless stop-and-frisk.
It’s really sad that these justices can only come to a unanimous decision when the case hits them really close and personal and that, the rest of the time, they can’t conjure any compassion or the imagination with which to put themselves in another person’s shoes, when particular justices regularly engage in inflammatory attacks against a particular segment of the population.
This is only one decision that touches everyone’s privacy in an immediate way. Just as immediate is the police state this Supreme Court is allowing. The NSA is listening to them right now. Why aren’t they bothered by the fact that they too, technically, are under suspicion?
This Supreme Court is broken. Like most of our institutions, it badly needs ethics reform, this decision not withstanding.
To read the rest of this opinion piece and my comment, click here.
Curated from www.nytimes.com