Some of our legal Supremes have been deciding badly.
On April 2, the Supreme Court handed down its decision on the case of Albert Florence, who was strip searched after being detained due to a computer error. In a 5-4 vote, the court upheld that law enforcement agencies have the right to subject anyone who is arrested, no matter the seriousness of the charges, to invasive strip searches.
Strip searches for minor offenses? That seems like a sour note in the anthem of a nation that prides itself on freedom from unreasonable search and seizure and respect for individual civil rights. The prospect of undergoing such a humiliating experience for minor, nonviolent acts is a societal ill one expects from a police state, not from one of the world’s great democracies.
Perhaps we should not be surprised that this decision was handed down by a court that ruled that corporations are people, opening the flood gates to the influence of big money on politics. With this new decision, the court has given a reason for all individuals, particularly those who are targeted frequently for arrest, to be concerned.
Considering the politics of Latino-police relations in many parts of the country, it is not difficult to understand how Latinos and African Americans will be particularly burdened by this ruling. We tend to be overrepresented – in comparison to other groups – among the people processed through the legal system. It is also not difficult to see that unethical, racist individuals in positions of power now have a legally enforceable tool with which to harass, intimidate and dehumanize the targets of their biases.
We should carefully watch people such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio, currently under scrutiny by the Obama administration for unfairly targeting Latinos in Arizona. But, what about the not-so-famous racists who wield badges? This astounding decision leaves almost no recourse for individuals to protest and resist abuse of power at the hands of everyday bigots.
Beyond the obvious concerns of our Latino community, this ruling is a blow to all people who value civil rights and a Constitution that was framed to uphold the integrity of the individual and protect against the abuses and excesses of government. It is unfathomable that the highest court in the land has granted such wide latitude to intrude upon the physical bodies of the U.S. populace.
The ruling certainly blurs the line of “innocent until proven guilty” and casts a state-sanctioned shadow on a population that is finding itself increasingly subject to the whims of a court that has shown itself to be not only partisan on many issues, but whose questionable rulings cast doubt on the primacy of the individual against corporate interests and government intrusion.
Imagine having your child stopped by police for a minor offense. Then imagine having her or him inform you that she or he was strip searched because of the event. Imagine the erosion to the sanctity of personal rights that this ruling could possibly unleash. Just imagine.