The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
I regret to announce the untimely demise of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution (1791-2011), at the hands of the United States Supreme Court (like a regular Court, but with tomatoes and sour cream). The Fourth Amendment fought the good fight for more than two centuries, but was eventually eaten away, bit by liberty-guaranteeing bit, over the last few decades while few people noticed. It finally succumbed to terminal frustration yesterday, May 16th, 2011, when the Supremes voted 8-1 that the police basically no longer needed a warrant to break down your door and search your house.
Many of us saw the end coming for the Fourth when the Supremes decided that we (the People) had no recourse if the police wanted to set up roadblocks and check to see if anyone was driving under the influence of alcohol. Apparently, the needs of the many to be free from the possibility of encountering a drunk driver outweighed the desire to be free from unreasonable searches. Not long thereafter, it was decided that- in the interest of the War on Drugs- we no longer had the right to be free from searches and seizures in our own homes if the police were afraid that evidence might be destroyed. Thus began a long period of increasing use of paramilitary raids on private homes using “no-knock” warrants.
This last, fatal injury came when the Supreme Court ruled that the police no longer even need to bother with a “no-knock” warrant if they claim to hear something which may or may not be someone possibly making noises which could possibly be the sounds of maybe destroying evidence- whether or not a crime had been previously suspected in the residence. The police can now claim “exigent circumstances” on almost any pretext and break in the door of any home if they think evidence of a crime may be in danger of being destroyed.
We are no longer citizens- we are serfs. Our rights against unreasonable search and seizure have been stripped from us in the interest of police convenience. What few rights remain to us are getting nibbled to death by ducks, and the majority of people in this country stand up and cheer because it is in the interests of “being tough on crime”. They are willingly trading liberty for security, blind to the historical truism that they will most likely fail to achieve either one.
It is especially depressing to note that the demise of liberties in the United States is accelerating at a time when oppressed people all over the world are just now beginning to realize the possibility of liberty for the first time. The people of Egypt and Tunisia have thrown off the yoke of their oppressors and are even now working out for themselves the rules for how their countries will be run. In Libya and Syria, people are standing up to the autocrats and dictators who rule them and many pay the ultimate price for their courage. The people of Yemen are very close to driving out their president under similar conditions, and at similar costs in lives. In China, people speak out against the excesses and failures of their police state in spite of the risk they might end up in prison- or simply disappear. Here in America … the Supreme Court of Indiana just ruled that citizens have no right to resist an illegal search of one’s home by police.
Some might say that these rulings are not such a big deal. Surely we can trust the police to use their new powers sparingly and only at great need. Sadly, we cannot. An Indiana Sheriff has already stated publicly that police can now conduct house-to-house searches if they feel the need to do so as a direct result of these recent rulings by the US and Indiana Supreme Courts. He even opined to the media that most citizens would welcome such exercises of byzantine power.
A perusal of English Common Law- upon which much of US law is based- shows that we have been cheerfully relinquishing our liberties to near duplicates of the same conditions which led to their creation. “King’s Messengers” and similar agents of the Crown once raided and searched the homes of Englishmen who spoke out against the government. Victims of those transgressions sought relief in the courts, eventually winning the same guarantees of liberty which we Americans have so recently abandoned. The similarities are rather startling- to me, at any rate.
Still worse are the attitudes of the people to whom I speak about these infringements of our liberties. Far too many people are willing to put up with violations of their inherent rights in the interest of convenience. They would rather allow warrantless searches of their homes, vehicles, and persons than face the possible delay while the police get a warrant. This exaltation of convenience over liberty is the final step from being citizens to becoming subjects.
An author named Mike McQuay wrote a series of dark novels about a dystopian future America where the police were blatantly agents of control for the political and corporate elites, and the wealthy few in their fortified mansions and villas were protected by gaudily-uniformed security thugs referred to as “fancy dans”. Ordinary people were treated harshly by these uniformed servitors for the benefit of the privileged few, with little to no recourse. I used to enjoy those stories. Today, they seem a little too close to reality for comfort.
Requiescat en pace, American liberty. I, at least, will miss you.
Current status: Locked, loaded, and liquored up.
Current music: The World I Know by Collective Soul