The Fourth Amendment and Airport Security, cont’d

April 10

VC co-blogger Orin Kerr, responding here to my initial posting cum rant about airport security and the 4th Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable seizures (in which I suggested that the TSA policy of putting you “in custody” once you enter the screening area is unconstitutional), shows that the caselaw is generally against my position.

Orin knows this body of law much, much better than I do, and I take his word for it.  It encapsulates, I think, much of what irks me about 4th Amendment law.  The quotations Orin includes from the cases upholding this practice against 4th Amendment challenges say what much 4th Amendment jurisprudence says:  the government cannot “seize” me unless it has a good reason (or maybe even a damned good reason) for doing so.  Not comforting.  I recognize that the source of the problem is in the Constitutional language itself – which declares, of course, that we don’t have a right to be free from searches and seizures, we have a right to be free only from “unreasonable” searches and seizures, and a reasonableness test will, inevitably, become an open door; if the First Amendment protected only against “unreasonable” abridgements of the freedom of speech, we would’ve gone to hell in a handbasket on that front a long time ago.

Orin did acknowledge that “some readers will contend that the cases are irrelevant to what the law truly is. If the cases say that, they will reason, then it just shows how the judges don’t understand what the Constitution truly means.”  Count me among them.

David Post taught intellectual property and Internet law at Georgetown Law Center and Temple University Law School until his recent retirement. He is the author of "In Search of Jeffersons Moose: Notes on the State of Cyberspace" (Oxford, 2009), a Fellow at the Center for Democracy and Technology, and an Adjunct Scholar at the Cato Institute.
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