With conservatives dominating on the U.S. Supreme Court, some of the decisions over the last couple of years haven’t come as too big a surprise. For instance, in January 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court voted, in a 5-4 ruling in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, to allow unlimited corporate and special interest spending on “electioneering communications.” The justices who ruled in favor explained the constitutionality of the decision, basing it on the First Amendment and the point that corporations are people and money is free speech. As unconstitutional as it may seem, apparently somehow a business entity should be guaranteed the same civil rights as an individual person. The latest big case is the constitutionality of the health mandate, also known as Obamacare, which the conservative justices seem to be in favor of overturning, based on the premise that the American public shouldn’t be forced to buy any particular thing. The ruling on that is expected by June.
These same U.S. Supreme Court justices, however, recently made an apparent about-face on personal freedoms and privacy. Though they had been doling out civil freedoms to corporations and leaning toward overturning the health mandate to protect personal freedoms, in a 5-4 ruling last Monday, they ruled in favor of allowing jail officials to strip-search people arrested for any offense, regardless how minor, before admitting them to jails, even if there is no suspicion of the presence of contraband, a public health threat or that the detainee may be hiding information about gang affiliations.
Based solely on appearances, the average Joe may think this is a reasonable situation. After all, anyone who is arrested has obviously found him- or herself in a bad situation. Guilty by association? But this court ruling came to be because of a case brought by a man who shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place for a fine he had already paid, and there was a malfunction in the system that kept an old warrant active. And not only was he strip-searched once, but twice, after being moved from one jail to another, for a crime — an outstanding fine — he did not commit. Somehow, these justices voted in favor of allowing jail officials to make the final decision about strip searches, even if those arrested aren’t charged with violent, drug or gang-related crimes.
We feel that this is an egregious violation of personal freedoms and privacy. To say that any one person can force another to strip naked, even squat and cough, for an arrest that may have been made on inaccurate pretenses is a slap in the face to all Americans. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Bad arrests happen all too often, and the consequences are compounded by giving jail officials the discretion to strip-search anyone for basically no reason. This recent ruling may lead most of us to the question, if the U.S. Supreme Court is basically the law of the land, upholding our constitutional rights, what Constitution are the justices basing their decisions on?