Internal checkpoints and thumbs on the scale of justice

The US government runs an extensive system of internal checkpoints where people are stopped, questioned, and sometimes detained without any hint of evidence. Yesterday I came upon the Supreme Court ruling which supports it: United States vs. Martinez-Fuente. It’s sickening. Here’s part of the ruling:

1. The Border Patrol’s routine stopping of a vehicle at a permanent checkpoint located on a major highway away from the Mexican border for brief questioning of the vehicle’s occupants is consistent with the Fourth Amendment, and the stops and questioning may be made at reasonably located checkpoints in the absence of any individualized suspicion that the particular vehicle contains illegal aliens. Pp. 556-564.

(a) To require that such stops always be based on reasonable suspicion would be impractical because the flow of traffic tends to be too heavy to allow the particularized study of a given car necessary to identify it as a possible carrier of illegal aliens. Such a requirement also would largely eliminate any deterrent to the conduct of well-disguised smuggling operations, even though smugglers are known to use these highways regularly. Pp. 556-557.

(b) While the need to make routine checkpoint stops is great, the consequent intrusion on Fourth Amendment interests is quite limited, the interference with legitimate traffic being minimal and checkpoint operations involving less discretionary enforcement activity than roving-patrol stops. Pp. 557-560.

(c) Under the circumstances of these checkpoint stops, which do not involve searches, the Government or public interest in making such stops outweighs the constitutionally protected interest of the private citizen.

The ruling starts by asserting that the checkpoints don’t violate the Fourth Amendment, but then it makes no attempt to back up the claim. Instead, it says that abiding by the Bill of Rights would be “impractical,” that there’s a great “need” for the checkpoints, and that being stopped, questioned, delayed for arbitrary periods of time, and sometimes assaulted is “minimal.”

The Court says in (c) that the government’s wishes “outweigh” the Constitution and the rights of individuals. It isn’t saying, “Internal checkpoints without evidence or warrants doesn’t violate the Constitution.” It’s saying, “We don’t give a damn if it violates the Constitution.”

There’s no scale of justice with “government interests” in one pan and the Constitution in the other. There’s just the thumbs of the Supreme Court judges.

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