The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has been in the news as of late, garnering national attention as the justices debate the highly controversial healthcare reform bill passed by Congress last year. With many on the right crying for the bill’s demise, there is a potentially more disturbing ruling being handed down from the court this week.
On Monday, April 2, SCOTUS voted 5-4 that persons detained on any charge, however minor, are now legally allowed to be subjected to a strip-search.
Conservative Justices Alito and Kennedy were of the opinion that detainees, regardless of guilt or innocence, should be submitted to a mandatory strip-search by officers.
Citing examples such as one of the 9/11 terrorists being stopped for a traffic violation only days before the attack, proponents of the ruling felt that preemptive strip-searches would be a way to promote a safer environment once incarcerated and help prevent crime.
Let us not forget that, according to a New York Times article, a brief filed by the American Bar Association cites “international human rights treaties also ban the procedures,” meaning that this ruling is viewed as a breach of civil liberties by many outside of the United States.
How far can one go to violate personal liberties in the name of safety?
My issue with this ruling is not limited to the nature of the strip-search alone, but rather that the offending officers do not have to cite reasonable suspicion before invoking their right to begin a strip-search. The gravity of this ruling seems to have been lost on the conservative judges who voted to violate potentially innocent persons.
This ruling means that someone arrested for small offenses, such as violating a “leash law, driving without a license and failing to pay child support,” now falls under the jurisdiction allowing a strip-search, according to a New York Times article published April 2.
To me, this ruling seems to hail from the days of George W. Bush’s Patriot Act, which was a gross violation of privacy, to say the least.
What is next, when we as a society stand idly by, and allow such humiliating acts, such as being forced to submit to a strip-search, happen to potentially innocent citizens?
While some may view this ruling as less ominous, it seems to me to be a decision that sets a very dark precedent for future abstract questions of your civil liberties (or lack thereof).
While SCOTUS has been challenged by a difficult docket this spring, one thing is certain: respect for human dignity was only respected by four dissenting justices this time.