The Supreme Court Used the 9/11 Defense?

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that jails could strip search any new inmate regardless of their suspected crime. The majority opinion stated that it does not matter if an inmate is arrested for a minor offense such as an outstanding traffic violation, they can be subject to a strip search. Of course the decision was predictably 5-4, with the conservative justices voting in favor of suspicionless strip searches and the liberal judges voting against them. 

What I found most striking about the majority opinion is that Justice Kennedy invoked the "9/11 Defense" to support the majority argument. "Justice Kennedy responded that “people detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals.” He noted that Timothy McVeigh, later put to death for his role in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, was first arrested for driving without a license plate. “One of the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks was stopped and ticketed for speeding just two days before hijacking Flight 93,” Justice Kennedy added."

I honestly do not understand why the Justices used these inflammatory examples to support their arguments. Are the Justices implying that the Oklahoma City bombings and the 9/11 terrorist attacks would have been prevented if we strip searched McVeigh or the 9/11 terrorists? What would police officers have found if they conducted these strip searches, the terrorists' secret plans? I do not think terrorists carry around their plans on their person. And furthermore, are the Justices implying that since the US government is incapable of telling the good guys from the bad guys, one way to deal with that is to give police officers the power to violate the privacy of individuals? 

What I find most frightening about the majority opinion is that the Justices could use it to justify limiting other civil liberties. From their point of view, if an action on part of the US government can prevent a terrorist attack, that may be enough to limit other civil liberties they deem less important than security. I honestly thought we learned from the last 11 years that using the 9/11 defense to justify an argument was a bad idea. Apparently not.

Julie VanDusky-Allen

About Julie VanDusky-Allen

Julie VanDusky-Allen is at Boise State University and received her PhD in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2011. Her research focuses on institutional choice and development, political parties, the legislative process, and Latin American politics.

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