Friday Brain Fire: Jumpin’ Jaysus

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I have long been bothered about the constitutionality of random checks of motorists by police. I, of course, like the idea of drunks being off the streets and not behind the wheel of vehicles, but I don’t like the concept of giving police authority without probable cause. I agree that it is often too late when we see a car swerving late at night down a busy highway but the idea of zero tolerance and you must submit to a police check at a road block leaves me as unsettled, or more, than Second Amendment types wondering why the government needs their personal information before they can buy guns.

I used to think it was a cheap analogy to compare these checkpoints to pre-war Germany but, in the most fundamental way, what you are doing is nobody’s business unless it is illegal or you provide some cause to indicate you may be acting illegally. Does a state have a right to put up roadblocks and ask to see your driver’s license? My guess is the answer to that is yes. But I’m equally convinced a right to privacy protects individuals from having to show a driver’s license to the requesting officer, unless they have provided the police with probable cause.

The constitutionality of drunk checks has been upheld, but the idea that we are also subject to spontaneous decisions by police departments that simply erect barriers to stop vehicles and ask to see drivers’ licenses is very much like SS roadblocks with soldiers demanding, “Paperz pleice!” Yes, the state does build, maintain, and patrol roadways for safety but when they operate under an assumption that a motorist might not be qualified, don’t they need probable cause to ask for a driver’s license?

In Tennessee, the highway patrol began running the random drivers’ license check points and encountered a few “Don’t Tread on Me” types, who make a very good case for their Fourth Amendment rights. The video they produced is worth watching…

Here in Texas, anyone who travels north from the border with Mexico is compelled to stop at a border patrol checkpoint and declare U.S. citizenship. There is, however, no real basis in law that requires any citizen to do so and many people have begun refusing to answer when the officers ask your citizenship. In fact, several legal and constitutional experts have said that the most that can be done is to ask you to pull out of line into a secondary inspection area for about twenty minutes. Unless there is something that occurs while you are being temporarily detained, which creates a probable cause, the border patrol has no legal right to either arrest or detain you.

The agent does not, however, have to release you until he or she is satisfied that you are legally present in the U.S., which means, if you look like a Wall Street banker and you refuse to answer the inquiry from the border patrol about your citizenship, chances are good they reach the conclusion you are an American citizen. But if you look like badass actor Danny Trejo and are driving a jalopy and there is an accent in your voice, chances are you will be at the checkpoint long enough to send in a change of address card for the mailman.

Our borders do need protection but so does our constitution. It should also be noted that the Department of Homeland Security was authorized by Congress to conduct searches within a range of about 100 miles from the border. One assumes probable cause still applies but DHS often appears to work by customized regulations that are distorted and allegedly justified by preventing terrorism.

A few videos of people refusing to answer the citizenship question made YouTube viral status not too many months ago and I was prompted to search them out again after seeing the Tennessee clips. I am not sure what, if anything, all of this means, but I do know people are weary of government and feel both distrustful and disenfranchised and these types or refusals to comply are a manifestation of those dissatisfactions.

On a different matter of law, I’ve been arguing for some time that the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, abused the power of his office by withholding funding from the Public Integrity Unit (PIU) of the Travis County District Attorney’s office. Perry was demanding that DA Rosemary Lehmberg resign after she was arrested for DWI but his actions had other purposes and context that have largely gone ignored.

The PIU had launched a grand jury investigation into the operations of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which Perry had been accused of overseeing in a manner that provided favor and funding to his political cronies. In fact, several esteemed scientists on the board, including Nobel Laureates, resigned after realizing that scientific merit of projects had little to nothing to do with how millions of dollars in taxpayer money were being handed out. One project received more than two million just based upon a few paragraphs of description.

The special prosecutor looking at the case told Austin’s KVUE-TV and the American Statesman yesterday that what he was seeing regarding the governor’s actions was “concerning.” Michael McCrum will present his evidence to the grand jury next month and conclude an investigation that was prompted when Texans for Public Justice filed a formal complaint against Perry for withholding the $7.5 million dollar funding from the DA.

And, if you wonder where the disenfranchisement and dissatisfaction with government come from, give serious consideration to whether you or anyone thinks Perry will be held accountable for any of his actions, which were clearly the product of nothing more than political spite after he got caught making his campaign donors happy with more money from taxpayers and CPRIT without much oversight. He wanted to get rid of the DA running the office that was investigating him. 

One last thing, to end with some humor, a video from my mother’s hometown of St. John’s, Newfoundland that went viral this week and ended up on the Ellen Degeneres Show’s website. The island has been getting hammered with snow in an epochal fashion this winter and you know it is bad when even Newfoundlanders are shocked by accumulations. Almost three feet fell a few days ago and during the process of digging out, as tends to be the case with Newfoundlanders on all things, comedy ensued.

When Barry Horlick’s mother Maureen urged him to get about the business of digging out the front door, the family decided to record his endeavor. The door opened to snow stacked close to three feet high. He jumped out to try to reach a shovel but got stuck. As he struggled to get loose, his frustrated mother got a tad upset about the snow cascading into her front door. Between exclamations of, “Mudder, I’m stuck. I’m stuck, Mudder,” she responds with, “Oh, jumpin’ Jesus tonight.”

Newfoundland needs a nightly variety and comedy show broadcast to the world.