Supreme court gives ok for strip searches.

This past week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision which stated that police could strip search anyone, regardless of the severity of the offense.  This means that if you get pulled over and you have a warrant for something as minor as unpaid traffic fines, then law enforcement officials have the legal power to take you to jail and strip search you before putting you in a cell.  Ironically, the case that went before the court stems from an incident in which a man in New Jersey was falsely arrested for an unpaid fine, that in reality he had paid.  Added to that is the fact that not paying fines in New Jersey is not a crime and so he shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place. As usual the court split along partisan lines with Anthony Kennedy casting the deciding vote in favor of law enforcement.  In writing the majority opinion, Kennedy said, “courts must defer to the judgment of correctional officials unless the record contains substantial evidence showing their policies are an unnecessary or unjustified response to problems of jail security.”  The court went on to say that “Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was initially arrested for not having a license plate on his car and that one of the ...9/11 terrorists was stopped and ticketed for speeding just two days before hijacking Flight 93. 'People detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals,'” One has to wonder how much destruction and devastation could have been avoided if we had only stripped them down when we had them.

            In all seriousness, however, this decision is just the latest step we as a nation have taken to chip away at our individual privacy and freedom in the name of security.  There is no pointing at any political party or politician as the one that set us on this dangerous path we find ourselves.  Democrats, Republicans, presidents, congressmen, and judges have all had a part in creating this atmosphere.  By the same token, we can’t just point our fingers at the government and lay blame there.  The American public, on average, not only apathetically sits in their comfortable homes thinking this doesn’t affect them, but also, oftentimes more than not, screams for the government to make them safer. 

            Quotes come to mind from two of our greatest American leaders and icons from the past.  One is from Franklin D. Roosevelt who said, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”  The American public seems to now live in a constant state of fear and paranoia that some bad guy somewhere is going to do something to them.  Maybe it’s that Middle Eastern guy?  What’s he really up to working in that business in my town?  Maybe it’s that black guy?  He’s wearing a hoodie, so I wonder if he’s going to rob me.  Maybe it’s those white trash people down in that trailer park?  I know they have to be doing meth down there, so I wonder if they will try to give it to my kids?  With the fear having fully gripped our society, we turn to the people with power to protect us from these bogeymen.  An in return, we go along with the those people in authority saying that in order to keep us safe, they must have more security measures and tools to deal with it. Why not?  We all think we’re not that bogeyman, so it will never affect us.

            This obsession with needing to be safe leads in to the other quote, this one from Benjamin Franklin, one of our most brilliant minded Founding Fathers.  Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty or safety.”  Franklin decried the police state authority practiced by their government, in this case Parliament and King George.  He and all of the Founding Fathers believed that in order for people to be free, the government’s job should be hard, not easy.  The country was established with the understanding that people were to be considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.  Government and law enforcement officials do an amazing job and they are to be commended for how often they put themselves in harm’s way in the line of duty.  However, making their job easier is not how this country was set up, at least not in regards to our individual freedoms.  If we continue to allow this chipping away of privacy and freedom just to feel safe, then Franklin was correct.  We deserve neither security, nor liberty.  So in the future, when you go out in public, do as your mother says and wear clean underwear.  If you forgot to pay that ticket, you never know who might see them.


(James Jackson writes his “progressive viewpoint” column each Friday. His columns are submitted as an opinion editorial and are not meant to represent an official view of The Sun-Times.  He can be reached at