Fourth Amendment remedies and the rise of ‘suspicionless searches’

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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“Every tinhorn dictator of the world has a bill of rights,” Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has been known to say. Words on a piece of paper don’t mean much, is what he’s saying — not unless there is an enforcement mechanism.

Luckily for us, the founding fathers, in all their wisdom, pit ambition against ambition. They created an adversarial system of checks and balances where power is dispersed.

This has served us well for centuries. But somewhere along the line, it seems to have broken down.

Despite all the laments about gridlock and partisan divides, when it comes to civil liberties, the various levels of government (federal, state and local), branches of government (executive, judicial and legislative), and even the two political opposing parties, seem to be in agreement.

The fix, it seems, is in.

One might naturally expect an executive branch to overreach, but their power is checked by the other branches.

Unfortunately, on civil liberties, Congress has been merely a rubber stamp for the White House — and the courts have upheld the constitutionality of what appear to be obvious violations of the Fourth Amendment

(As House Majority Leader Eric Cantor reportedly said on CBS Monday morning, the “court has upheld the constitutionality” of the PRISM and NSA phone programs.)

We are faced with an interesting situation whereby secretive and seemingly unconstitutional invasions have gone through all the appropriate channels, and in fact, have been granted the imprimatur of the appropriate authorities. And this isn’t sui generous.

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Though it probably garnered less attention that it deserves, the Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow “suspicionless searches” should be considered part of the larger narrative.

As Justice Scalia warned in his dissent, “your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”

So it seems we have arrived at a place where the government is now collecting information — phone calls and DNA and…who knows? — that will be stored in some database to be used or abused at a later date, if necessary. This information may be collected without any sort of probable cause.

And the interesting thing is, it’s all entirely legal. There apparently are no unreasonable searches. It has gone through the proper channels. This may be the most remarkable part of the story.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Matt K. Lewis