Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Justice upped the ante in a high-stakes political game of chicken. Lobbying against pending legislation in the Texas legislature which would criminalize any searches conducted without probable cause, U.S. Attorney John E. Murphy sent a letter to a few high-ranking members of Texas’ government warning against promoting the bill and threatening a complete closure of all flights to and from the state.
“If HR [sic] 1937 were enacted, the federal government would likely seek an emergency stay of the statute,” Murphy wrote. “Unless or until such a stay were granted, TSA would likely be required to cancel any flight or series of flights for which it could not ensure the safety of passengers and crew.”
No doubt written with the threatening intent one reads into it, Murphy added: “We urge that you consider the ramifications of this bill before casting your vote.”
Previous to the federal government’s threat, the Texas legislature had considered the ramifications of the bill. More importantly, they were responding to a clear need to uphold the Fourth Amendment and ensure that each person enjoys the right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” — a right which the U.S. Constitution mandates “shall not be violated.”
Repeated TSA violations of the Fourth Amendment
That need has demonstrated itself in great abundance in past months, as the TSA has aggressively pursued its new policy of invasive searches and seizures at the nation’s airports. The “ramifications” to which the U.S. Attorney refers are evidently an easily dismissed matter of little importance to the federal government; to those affected by these policies, the ramifications of a bill seeking to prevent further occurrences is no doubt a welcome development.
It was less than a month ago at the Dallas, TX airport where former Miss USA Susie Castillo tearfully produced a viral video describing the molestation she had just then endured at the hands of a TSA agent. “I mean, she actually… touched my vagina,” Castillo said through her tears. “They’re making me… choose to either get molested… or go through this machine that’s completely unhealthy and dangerous. I don’t want to go through it, and here I am crying.”
Castillo isn’t the only person who would be protected under this Texas legislation. All other innocent travelers would likewise be shielded. That includes the six year old girl who made the headlines last month for being groped by a TSA agent (an action which the TSA defended as being alright since it “followed the current standard operating procedure”), as well as the eight-month-old infant subjected to a pat down while cradled in the arms of her mother.
These are but a few of the myriad confrontations that occur daily where TSA agents detain, invasively search, and seize items from innocent individuals who are not suspected of any crime whatsoever. Texas’ bill would correct this horrific perversion of the law within its state, but the federal government is clearly interested in justifying and maintaining its statist status quo.
Repeated Threats from the Federal Government
Evidence of that arrogant persistence is found in letters similar to the one penned last night by the U.S. Attorney to Texas officials. Almost two years ago, a similarly threatening letter was sent to Oklahoma by the U.S. Attorney General. In it, the state is warned against pursuing a constitutional amendment to make the English language official. The threat was a termination of appropriated funds to the state.
Another letter was sent in 2009 to both Montana and Tennessee in response to those states passing a Firearms Freedom Act. Rather than an explicit threat of any sort, these letters completely dismissed any constitutional standing or legitimate concern by the states, instead (incorrectly) affirming the federal government’s supreme authority over the issue at hand.
More recently, a U.S. Attorney wrote to the Governor of Rhode Island warning against that state’s implementation of medical marijuana legislation which would constitutionally regulate the manufacture, distribution, and consumption of the plant within the state. The attorney trumpeted the federal laws relating to the “controlled substance” and assured the Governor that the Department of Justice’s full resources would be brought to bear against any state (theirs included) which attempted to oppose the federal government’s complete control.
Rob Natelson, recognized national expert on the founding and adoption of the Constitution, considers these letters to be far more ominous than mere statements. In response to the 2009 letters, he said, “I look at this and I see this letter which gets close to looking like an order from the central government down to a sovereign state legislature, and I say, ‘WOW.’ This looks like something that (Roman Emperor) Septimius Severus would have sent to the local officials.” He continued, “It reminds one eerily of the kinds of communications that started to come out from the Emperor to the local cities of the Roman Empire, beginning the course of the ultimate destruction of local government.”
Despite Threats, Moving Forward
For now, it appears that the U.S. Attorney’s threat has realized its goal; the sponsor of the Texas bill has decided to concede defeat in this battle, but remains committed to fighting the war. “I will pull HB 1937 down, but I will stand for liberty in the state of Texas,” said Senator Dan Patrick, the bill’s sponsor. As such, as of right now, the bill has died.
This much is clear: the federal government should not consider this a victory. As individuals are being unjustly molested on a daily basis, it is increasingly becoming apparent that there exists a strong, emotionally-charged undercurrent of resistance against the TSA and its invasive searches and seizures.
If anything, the withdrawal of Texas’ legislation last night should be seen as the calm before the coming storm of state-based opposition to the TSA.
Texas is Not Alone
If anything can serve as a rallying cry to unite the states against an oppressive, unconstitutional action on the part of the federal government, it is the institutionalized and fear-based justification of the molestation of innocent men, women, and children. The U.S. Attorney’s stern counsel to consider the “ramifications” of the Texas bill speaks more in support of the state’s actions than against it.
Indeed, when one considers the ramifications of not opposing the federal government on this issue, it is difficult to imagine how many Susie Castillos will be felt up by the feds for no valid reason whatsoever. That unnecessary nightmare is enough to encourage a single state — in this case, Texas — to stand strong in the defense of the individual liberties of its citizens.
But Texas is not alone. Already, four other states are considering similar “travel freedom” legislation. And, sources close to the Tenth Amendment Center tell us to expect at least ten others in 2012. Taken together, it becomes evident that many other states will soon be picking up the baton, together having the courage needed to put the federal government back in its rightful place — which isn’t inside the waistline of innocent passengers.
Connor Boyack [send him mail] is the state chapter coordinator for the Utah Tenth Amendment Center. He is a web developer, political economist, and social media consultant changing the world one byte at a time. Read his blog or follow him on Twitter.