Non-sequitors and confusing logic from SCOTUS

Published April 4, 2012

Even when I disagree with the Supreme Court’s decisions, I usually see the logic behind the justices’ ruling. These aren’t small-town judges making head-slapping arguments; this is the high court, and every opinion makes sense.

But now and again one of the justices will make a comment that’s so ridiculous — so disturbingly ignorant — that it throws me for a loop.

Today’s decision that jailers can require anyone arrested to be strip searched — no matter how minor the crime — falls in that category. Not the actual ruling, though. I disagree with the court (or at least its Republican members; the ruling was split on party lines), but there’s logic to the ruling: It’s difficult for jail officials to know who’s dangerous and who isn’t.

What shocked me was this logic. I’ll quote MSNBC’s story:

The court also noted that Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was initially arrested for not having a license plate on his car and that one of the 9/11 terrorists was stopped and ticketed for speeding just two days before hijacking Flight 93. “People detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals,” the court said.

In other words, the Supreme Court says that the ends justifies the means. There’s no logical connection between McVeigh and the 9/11 terrorists and jail strip searches.

The ‘logic’ the Court seems to be trying to invoke is that ‘violent people can be arrested for minor crimes.’ And that would make sense if McVeigh or Mohammed Atta had attacked a guard with a smuggled weapon.

But they didn’t!

The response to the Court’s rather foolish statement is, “Are you saying that strip searching Timothy McVeigh when he was arrested for not having a license plate would have changed anything?”

Because it wouldn’t have.

Or: “Are you saying that because Mohammed Atta was caught speeding, we should assume every speeder is a terrorist?”

The answer to that, at least according to the Court, is clearly Yes.

A reasonable example for the justices to give would have been one where someone arrested for something minor had snuck a weapon into jail. That would at least have bearing on the ruling. But referencing generic violent people to justify strip searches is an odd disconnect. I can imagine the defense lawyer saying, “Huh? What do they have to do with my client?”

Heck, if anything, citing McVeigh or the 9/11 terrorists supports the defense in this case: “You didn’t strip-search Timothy McVeigh, and he didn’t attack his jailers. What makes you think my client needs to be strip searched?”

I really wish I understood what SCOTUS was thinking when it said that. Because really, does it make sense to anyone?



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