Police are going to be out in force to make the roads safer over the Thanksgiving season, and they’re just going to violate the Constitution a little tiny bit to do it:
In an effort to reduce the number of deaths and injuries on Indiana roadways during the 2008 Thanksgiving holidays, the Rensselaer Police Department will join with thousands of law enforcement officers representing more than 250 state and local law enforcement agencies to promote safe family travel. This statewide campaign will take place from Nov. 14 to Nov. 30.
Through high-visibility patrols, sobriety checkpoints and other enforcement efforts designed to deter impaired driving particularly during the high-risk nighttime hours, law enforcement officers across the state will be on the look out for those who drive while impaired or intoxicated during this high-risk time.
But the constitutional violation has been endorsed by the Supreme Court, so it must be OK. The Fourth Amedment prohibits search or seizure without reasonable suspicion, and sobriety checkpoints by definition target people at random. The checkpoints do come under the Fourth’s provisions — that’s what Chief Justice William Rehnquist said in a 1990 case as his court voted 6-3 in favor of the checkpoints. After all, it’s just a small violation of the Constitution (a “minimal intrustion in individual liberties” is the way Rehnquist put it, which sounds a whole lot like “a little bit pregnant” to me), and that must be weighed against the need for and effectiveness of the DUI roadblocks.
The end justifies the means, don’t you know, so let’s just ignore the Constitution or make its requirements up as we go along — never mind, as one dissenter pointed out, that a careful review of statistics on DUI checkpoints found their net effect was minimal and perhaps even negative (if the drunks know where the checkpoints are — and word does get around — that encourages the most reckless among them to stay on the road and just drive elsewhere).
And this was the Rehnquist court deciding what policy should be and starting from there instead of using the Constitution as a guide. By such little steps do we start accepting the erosion of liberty as the Constitution loses its meaning. And Barack Obama has vowed to appoint justices who will turn the erosion into a landslide.