Sunday will mark the six-month anniversary of the Boston bombings. While this tragic event highlighted the ugliness of mankind, I tend to remember the first responders rushing to the wounded while multiple bombs were exploding. That type of bravery is often overlooked and underappreciated during the chaos of a violent event. Sadly, the nation has moved on from this incident and it has largely faded into the background. However, the residents of Boston will forever be changed by this event, in more ways than one.
To me, this incident highlighted a new and disturbing trend in America. As the Boston police searched for the remaining suspect, they proceeded to enter homes in a forceful and right-seizing manner. While many residents willingly allowed heavily armed police to enter their home in the frantic search, others weren’t allowed their constitutional rights.
The Fourth Amendment states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The history behind this amendment is wrought with protections for the citizens of this country. It has deep roots in the British effort to eliminate opposition to their oppressive colonization through searches and seizures. When declaring their independence from England, there were only three Amendments that the colonists felt were more important than a government being restricted from unfettered searches and seizures.
Unfortunately, as time has dragged on, there has been a concerted effort to strip away these rights afforded to every American. In fact, through the years, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed a number of exceptions to the warrant requirement. These include exceptions such as exigent circumstance, consent, plain view, hot pursuit, search incident to a lawful arrest, border search, and stop and frisk.
Many will say that the special circumstances surrounding the Boston manhunt allowed for an exception. They insist that the safety of the public superseded the constitutional rights of home owners. These people will insist that exceptions need to be made in order to keep the public safe.
These people are wrong. In the case of the Boston manhunt, there was actually no further public danger during the specific manhunt. There was only a perceived danger to the public as the suspect lie prone in a boat bleeding to death. There is a HUGE difference between a perceived threat and an actual threat.
Much like the government surveillance movement, there has been a large push in the last 12 years to force American citizens make a choice between their rights and their safety. I agreed with Candidate Obama in 2007 when he described this as a "false choice." Freedom isn’t free and Americans aren’t free without being afforded their rights in all circumstances.
I find the trend to create exceptions to these steadfast rights to be troubling. If there needs to be exceptions made to guaranteed rights, then these exceptions should be created officially in the form of an amendment. For example, as America evolved, the right to vote also evolved to include women and minorities. These "exceptions" involved a public push to reform laws citizens felt needed to be changed. If America feels that safety is more important than constitutional rights, then the proper procedure is to change the Constitution to reflect these changes.
These exceptions essentially serve two purposes. First, they take away rights from the citizens and give power to the government. This flies in the face of the very reason the amendment was created! Second, they serve to expedite the investigation process. Again, following the fourth amendment ensures that the government and police operate within the framework of the rules.
By convincing people that their safety is at risk, the opportunity exists to expand government control and restrict individual freedom. Over time, these rights continue to be incrementally removed until there is an entire generation that doesn’t appreciate the rights they have had taken away. This simple strategy can be viewed on a small scale in the form of a mother with five children. If this mother makes a sandwich and allows each child to have a bite, there is very little sandwich left at the end for Mom. This is how the federal government has slowly, but surely, chewed away the rights afforded to all Americans.
If public safety is more important than the fourth amendment, then let’s expand these exceptions. How about we allow police to conduct door to door checks each evening to ensure the safety of the public? If you have nothing to hide, what’s the problem? Allowing the government to go door to door because of perceived threats is a slippery slope that eventually enables exceptions to become a daily reality.
If public safety is indeed more important than fourth amendment rights, in a modern America, then let’s start proceedings on adding a new Amendment. Until then I’m going to agree with Paul Ryan when he says, "It's no coincidence that trust in government is at an all-time low now that the size of government is at an all-time high."
The Constitution was created to restrict the power of government, not to enable the power of government. It would serve us all well to remember this when we discuss the constitutional role of government in our lives.
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