Riding the commuter trains of my area is a study in how people react to being mildly uncomfortable for any length of time. Being designed to seat people of a body type far slimmer than what my line usually encounters makes riding to work with a seatmate’s bulging oversized body squeezing you into the wall, arm rest or the bulging girth seated on your other side almost a given. Lucky for me, I learned how to properly fold and read The New York Times even when hemmed into a packed subway car so handling the task while immobilized between two people who could stand to lose a few stone each is not beyond my ability.
They argue that we’re in a war, a War on Drugs, and necessity and speed make search warrants too cumbersome for that war to be won. Police on the scene must, they say, have discretion to enter our homes as determined by them, on the spot. This ruse has been tried (and denied) before, back in 1948, when the Supreme Court found “the smell of drugs could provide probable cause for a warrant…but it did not entitle the police to enter without one.” The Fourth Amendment to our Constitution is blunt on the matter – no home may be entered but with a warrant, specifically pointing to what is to be searched and seized. We also have ample historical evidence and sad knowledge of humanity’s flawed state; both argue irrefutably for the use of search warrants to restrain abuse of power.
The power to conduct warrant-less searches that the Obama administration and the state of Kentucky are demanding is simply too dangerous to ever be granted, whatever the excuse. Couple such a power with your average American police department’s drug enforcement unit, most of whom enjoy pimping out as if they’re off fighting in Afghanistan rather than placid, domesticated America, and you’ll never get it back.
So what is to be done should the Supreme Court allow the Constitution to live and breathe and grow until search warrants are declared passé? Quincy’s Report concerning “writs of assistance” in Massachusetts just before our Revolution declared, “written constitutions, established by the people themselves, and beyond the control of their representatives, necessarily obliged the judicial department, in case of a conflict between a constitutional provision and a legislative act, to obey the Constitution as the fundamental law and disregard the statute.” (Kurland & Lerner, 228) There we have our marching orders, regardless of what the Supreme Court decides.
If you are a police officer, it is your sworn duty to refuse to enter any home without a legally issued warrant describing the place and person to be searched, even if you smell ganja and hear people singing along to Bob Marley from behind the closed door. If you are jury on a case with evidence obtained by an officer following his nose rather than the law, you must acquit or refuse to indict. And if you are a judge sitting high on your bench, you must throw out any guilty verdict derived from evidence seized without a warrant. If there ever is to be a practice crying out for nullification, warrant-less searches are it.
No War on Anything, let along drugs, is worth given up the security of our homes for. Either absolutely everyone has a right – even the stoners amongst us – or absolutely no one does. If heavily armed police snooping outside our doors (how long until they introduce the sniffing dogs?) breaking in as their nose and ears tell them is proper, if that’s the road to “victory” in this War on Drugs, I vote we reconsider the whole thing.