The U.S. Supreme Court was intended to be an institution established to intervene and protect the people from the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds.
Yet as I point out in my book "A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State," Americans can no longer rely on the courts to mete out justice. In the police state being erected around us, the police and other government agents can probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts.
A review of the Supreme Court’s rulings over the past 10 years, including some critical ones this term, reveals a startling and steady trend towards pro-police state rulings by an institution concerned more with establishing order and protecting government agents than with upholding the rights enshrined in the Constitution.
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Police officers can use lethal force in car chases without fear of lawsuits. In Plumhoff v. Rickard (2014), the court declared that police officers who used deadly force to terminate a car chase were immune from a lawsuit. The officers were accused of needlessly resorting to deadly force by shooting multiple times at a man and his passenger in a stopped car, killing both individuals.
Police officers can stop cars based only on “anonymous” tips. In a 5-4 ruling in Navarette v. California (2014), the court declared that police officers can, under the guise of “reasonable suspicion,” stop cars and question drivers based solely on anonymous tips, no matter how dubious, and whether or not they themselves witnessed any troubling behavior.
Secret Service agents are not accountable for their actions, as long as they’re done in the name of security. In Wood v. Moss (2014), the court granted “qualified immunity” to Secret Service officials who relocated anti-Bush protesters, despite concerns raised that the protesters’ First Amendment right to freely speak, assemble, and petition their government leaders had been violated.
Citizens only have a right to remain silent if they assert it. The Supreme Court ruled in Salinas v. Texas (2013) that persons who are not under arrest must specifically invoke their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in order to avoid having their refusal to answer police questions used against them in a subsequent criminal trial.
Police have free reign to use drug-sniffing dogs as “search warrants on leashes,” justifying any and all police searches of vehicles stopped on the roadside. In Florida v. Harris (2013), a unanimous court determined that police officers may use highly unreliable drug-sniffing dogs to conduct warrantless searches of cars during routine traffic stops.
In this Dec. 6, 2011 file photo, Miami-Dade narcotics detector canine Franky, who came out of retirement to give a demonstration, sniffs for marijuana in Miami. Franky the drug dog's super-sensitive nose is at the heart of a question being put to the U.S. Supreme Court: Does a police K-9's sniff outside a house give officers the right to get a search warrant for illegal drugs, or is the sniff itself an unconstitutional search? (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)
Police can forcibly take your DNA, whether or not you’ve been convicted of a crime. In Maryland v. King (2013), a divided court determined that a person arrested for a crime who is supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty must submit to forcible extraction of their DNA.
Police can stop, search, question and profile citizens and non-citizens alike. The Supreme Court declared in Arizona v. United States (2012) that Arizona police officers have broad authority to stop, search and question individuals - citizen and non-citizen alike.
Police can subject Americans to virtual strip searches, no matter the “offense.” In its 5-4 ruling in Florence v. Burlington (2012), the court declared that any person who is arrested and processed at a jail house, can be subjected to a virtual strip search by police or jail officials.
Police can break into homes without a warrant, even if it’s the wrong home. In an 8-1 ruling in Kentucky v. King (2011), the court placed their trust in the discretion of police officers, rather than in the dictates of the Constitution, when they gave police greater leeway to break into homes or apartments without a warrant.
The Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Police Department SWAT team search houses for the second of two suspects wanted in the Boston Marathon bombings takes place April 19, 2013 in Watertown, Massachusetts. Many of these searches were conducted without warrants. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY
It’s a crime to not identify yourself when a policeman asks your name. In Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada (2004), a majority of the high court agreed that refusing to answer when a policeman asks “What’s your name?” can rightfully be considered a crime under Nevada’s “stop and identify” statute. The cases the Supreme Court refuses to hear - allowing lower court judgments to stand - are almost as critical as the ones they rule on.
Legally owning a firearm is enough to justify a no-knock raid by police. Justices refused to hear Quinn v. Texas (2014) the case of a Texas man who was shot by police through his closed bedroom door and whose home was subject to a no-knock, SWAT-team style forceful entry and raid based solely on the suspicion that there were legally-owned firearms in his household.
The military can arrest and detain American citizens. In refusing to hear Hedges v. Obama (2014), a legal challenge to the indefinite detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, the Supreme Court affirmed that the president and the military can arrest and indefinitely detain individuals, including American citizens.
Police officers who don’t know their actions violate the law aren’t guilty of breaking the law. The Supreme Court let stand a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Brooks v. City of Seattle (2012) in which police officers who clearly used excessive force when they repeatedly tasered a pregnant woman during a routine traffic stop were granted immunity from prosecution.
When all is said and done, what these assorted court rulings add up to is a disconcerting government mindset that interprets the Constitution one way for the elite - government entities, the police, corporations and the wealthy - and uses a second measure altogether for the underclasses - that is, you and me.
Keep in mind that in former regimes such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the complicity of the courts was the final piece to fall into place before the totalitarian beast stepped out of the shadows and into the light. If history is a guide, then the future that awaits us is truly frightening.
Time, as they say, grows short.
Constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute and author of "A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State." Whitehead can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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