Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Liberty Stripped: US Supreme Court Approves Strip Searches of ALL Jailed Arrestees

Stripping your rights…

While the nation’s attention was focused on the tension between President Barack Obama and the Supreme Court over the constitutionality of “Obamacare,” the Court dealt another shocking blow to your civil liberties. In a highly controversial 5-4 decision, the justices ruled on Monday that anyone arrested and jailed in the United States may be subject to humiliating strip searches, even if they’re being detained for minor offenses like traffic violations.

In Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington, the Court held that jail strip searches do not require any reasonable suspicion that an arrestee may be in possession of contraband so long as the prisoner is being admitted to the general jail population.

So much for Fourth Amendment protection against “unreasonable search and seizure.”

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy sided with conservative justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in allowing jail officials to strip search anyone in their custody. Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer dissented.

Kennedy, who is often the swing vote, opined that strip searches make jails safer by thwarting the entry of weapons and drugs and improve health conditions by identifying prisoners with diseases or injuries.

Writing for the dissenting minority, Justice Breyer warned that strip searches are a “serious affront to human dignity and to individual privacy” which should only be resorted when absolutely necessary.

“I have found no convincing reason indicating that, in the absence of reasonable suspicion, involuntary strip searches of those arrested for minor offenses are necessary in order to further the penal interests mentioned,” he wrote. “And there are strong reasons to believe they are not justified.”

According to The Raw Story, Monday’s ruling stems from the 2005 arrest of Albert Florence, a New Jersey resident who was nabbed over a warrant for an unpaid fine during a traffic stop. Florence was held in two different jails over seven days, during which time he was strip searched at both facilities. He was released after officials determined he’d actually paid the “outstanding” fine.

This ruling is alarming because as of this week anyone arrested for even the most minor offenses, even those wrongfully arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights (see: Occupy Wall Street) or for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time (see: Occupy Wall Street) are now subject to extremely humiliating and often invasive strip searches.

As Justice Breyer pointed out, some of those victimized for strip searches were guilty of such “offenses” as “driving with a noisy muffler, driving with an inoperable headlight, failing to use a turn signal, or riding a bicycle without an audible bell.”

Once again, the Supreme Court has run roughshod over your civil liberties. And once again, there has been little to no public outcry. As Lady Liberty is stripped naked one Supreme Court case at a time (see: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission), our silence encourages the further erosion of our liberties. Perhaps this is the America we all deserve…

For the complete Supreme Court ruling, click here. 

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