A Bit on the 4th Ammendment
I had a very strange conversation today with a friend of mine, whom I'll
call Mr. Cheese, who objected to my comments about airline security back
here. Essentially my point was that, insofar as
airlines are private businesses, the government has no right to require that their
employees be there to search all the airline's customers, and insofar as the 4th
ammendment to the constitution requires that warrents be issued before people are
subject to searches by the government, the government has no right to search
customers of airlines who don't want to be searched. Here is a bit of the
conversation, with some spelling and punctuation corrections:
Mr. Cheese: It comes across as pretty ignorant. You even misquote the fourth
Now, the 4th ammendment is only one sentence long, and it goes like this:
Dragonfly: Oh? Did I pick the wrong ammendment?
Mr. Cheese: No, right one. But it also states that this right should be suspended
on a small scale for the good of the people. Hence, a smaller sacrifice for a
Dragonfly: Uh, no it doesn't.
Mr. Cheese: So, you're a lawyer too?
Dragonfly: Well, the 4th ammendment doesn't say that.
Mr. Cheese: No. But it's been interpreted as such. By lawyers. And a little
organization called the Supreme Court.
Dragonfly: Well, obviously they're wrong because that's not what it says. And the
supreme court today also upheld affirmative action, so it's not like they care that
much about the constitution.
Mr. Cheese: Too bad. They're the only ones that matter.
Dragonfly: Yeah, it is too bad. However, I really don't think it counts
as a misquote when I used the exact words that are in the ammendment in such a way
that does not change its meaning. You don't have to be a lawer or a judge to
understand the constitution or say what it means.
Mr. Cheese: Yeah, you kinda do.
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
There is nothing in here which says that this right may be abriged at
all, much less suspended, and to make it say otherwise requires a distinct
change in its meaning and a considerable reduction in its strength. If such an
alteration in interpreting it were legitamate, then logically any sentence in the
entire document may be equally dulled and the leeway of the government to do
whatever it pleases (such as without warrents to force customers of a private
business to undergo humiliating searches) correspondingly increased. I think
this is strong evidence that the constitution should not simply be be taken to mean
whatever lawers and judges says it means.
The idea that interpreting the laws is solely the domain of lawers and judges is, I
believe, a dangerous fallacy. If one group is given the sole power to say what a
law means, the more that the rest of the people defer to that one group and the
less that they think for themselves, the greater will be the temptation of the
first group to see illusory clauses, like the one Mr. Cheese mentioned, that tilt
the scales of power in their favor. As they
get used to weilding this power, they will soon be essentially lawmakers
themsleves, albeit a more dangerous kind than the ones we elect to congress.
This is not and should not be the power of
lawers and judges; to grant them this power is to confuse their function.
about being a judge or lawer gives one inherently better judgement than anyone
reason they are employed is not to relieve ourselves of any say over the law but
specialized and more extensive store of knowledge about how laws have been
applied in the past gives them an
implicit guide to decisions on questions unforseen by the makers. Their power is
in familarity of a method of clarifying meaning, and in applying the law in ways
that would have pleased its maker, not of making the law mean what they like.
Therefore, when they debate on questions of subtlties where the requisite
knowledge to understand is uncommon, most people ought to defer to the lawers and
judges because it is beyond their scope to do otherwise, but when lawers or
judges are obviously
out of line then there is nothing wrong with anyone pointing it out.
The meaning of the bill of rights is a matter too critical and too basic to be
left solely to any profession. It is a document which all Americans should know
and think about because it is the blueprint of
their government and one of their bests assets in preserving their freedom. It is,
furthermore, written in plain language, without jargon requiring any technical
knowledge to understand. One does not need too much
knowledge to make informed opinions on its basic issues, just the knowledge that
every citizen ought to have.
Part of the greatness of the American constitution is that in limiting the
government, does not allow individual cases to be considered on their own merits,
but merely provides broad rules that apply on an infinity of cases; for example,
although there are many instances of speech which probably a majority would like
to see silenced, such as that of Nazis, Scientologists, or mormons, the 1st
ammendment prevents us from any attempt to do so and forces us to recall that
government intervention in such a place is a danger, no matter how much we might
welcome it there at first. This is why the bill of writes is written in such an
absolute way; so that individual exceptions, which gradually wear away at it, are
This is why I do not feel that exceptions should be allowed: those ammendments are
there for a reason, and although some exceptions to them many people would find
agreable, to allow any set a dangerous precident which may be used to further
wear them down. A freedom is a
freedom, and it is neither the government's nor anyone else's right to abridge it
regardless of whether doing so may be for a greater good.
I think one of the reasons people wish to see the constitution dulled in such an
irresponsible way is that the constitution is an impediment to many peoples'
political agendas. It is inherently hostile to the desires of both the liberals
and conservatives, although somewhat moreso to the liberals. In addition, because
the government already does so many things which would
certainly be considered unconstitutional if the constitution were not read with
such subterfuge as it is today, it is a shock to many people used to such thing to
hear a desire to have the constitution taken more seriously. For example, many
government agencies such as the IRS are allowed to make regulations that have the
force of law despite the fact that congress never voted upon them. Congress has no
deligate its authority; this is not permitted or implied by anything in the
Constitution. Nobody but they have the power to make laws. Therefore the IRS is
Here's a fascinating essay about that
Incedentally, to clarify my comments above about affirmative action, the 14th
ammendment says that the government shall not "deny to any person within
its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws". Obviously, if this is to be
taken at face value, the government therefore may not treat people differently
based on the color of their skin. Since the school involved in the recent Supreme
Court decision was a public school (at least I think so, since it's called the
University of Michigan Law School), affirmative action therefore has no place
there because affirmative action is a form of racial descrimination. The supreme
court decision is a good example of people following a particular political agenda
beyond what the constitution allows.
Finally, as for airline security, it's not that I am against it. I'm just against
the government having a hand in it. It is prefectly alright and very prudent of
airlines to be very careful about security, and they certainly have a right to
require some checking before allowing people on their planes. I have no doubt that
they'd do a better job AND be more curteous too.