2005-07-29 / Editorial/Opinion

Majority Agree With Subway Searches

It is easy to tell from even an informal survey that the majority of New Yorkers who use the subway and bus system are in favor of random searches by police. While a number that we questioned seemed to believe that there was no way to completely stop a person dedicated to killing himself and others, the searches are, at least, a viable attempt to slow down the bombers. There are some, particularly the usual civil libertarians, who believe that the random searches mean the end of civilization itself. We believe that the searches are not only reasonable, but also necessary. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution is open to discussion and has been defined by the Supreme Court many times. It says, “The right of 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 an oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Since the government is not seizing anything (unless they happen to find a bomb and then I surely hope they seize it before it is detonated), the question must be, are the random searches “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment? The Supreme Court has held, for example, that searches of people entering airplanes are reasonable to prevent those airplanes from being hijacked to Cuba (the original problem long before 9/11), blown up, or used as missiles. Why are the subway searches so different? We don’t think that they are. In fact, we think that the searches made at airports are exactly on point. Unfortunately, the searches that started in the middle part of the last century to stop hijackers who wanted to get to Cuba portended the more extensive searches that came after 9/11 and the extension of those searches that began last week. It is clear that the Founding Fathers never meant either the Constitution or the Bill of Rights as a suicide pact. We must do what we must do to protect our citizens as long as we do it within the framework of laws. The new policy of random searches is clearly “reasonable” and therefore well within that framework.

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