Tim Dunkin: Recovering our Constitution -- the Fourth Amendment

By this point in the evolution of our once great Republic, even the most insensitive of Americans has come to realize that the constitutional liberties that we take for granted are fast disappearing, in fact if not (yet) in word. For many of us, however, the sense of this loss of liberty is somewhat inchoate — we know that it's happening, but we can't quite put our finger on how we got to this point, or what every manifestation of this loss is in our daily lives. In this article — and in what (hopefully) will be a series of articles dealing with the loss and recovery of our liberties — I'd like to address what has happened to us, and what we can do to get back to where we ought to be. Let us begin with the 4th amendment to our Constitution,

"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 be seized."

Let us ask the fundamental question — what was the purpose of this amendment? Why was it included in a Bill of Rights that was intended to safeguard the liberties of American citizens? Basically, the purpose was the protection of our liberties at that particular conjuction where property rights and privacy meet. A man's home is his castle. Under despotic systems, no citizen really has the assurance that their property, their personal effects, or even they themselves, are safe from arbitrary search and seizure. Under such regimes, the government is not limited in its ability to interfere in the everyday life and livelihood of its subjects, whether for "law enforcement" or confiscatory purposes. This had been the case in the colonies prior to the American Revolution, and it was exactly this sort of thing that the 4th amendment was designed to check.

Now, as the amendment states, there are times where it is legitimate for the government to search and seize private property. This is why the stipulation is made that "unreasonable" searches and seizures are not to be made. At certain times, however, such as in the course of a legitimate and procedurally correct criminal investigation, governmental authorities are authorized to cross the boundary into res privata (private things) — provided that the specified procedure is followed.

However, what we see occurring in the United States of America is a vast disregard for this amendment, and a vast overstepping of the delineated circumstances in which searches and seizures can be made.

Why and how has this happened?

I would argue that it is because of the appearance and growth of the modern "security state." Americans have gradually yielded more and more of the responsibility for their own protection, and their own behavior, to the state, and have consequently seen a vast increase in the reach and authority of the police powers of the state. In short, Americans have largely agreed to hand over the responsibility for behaving themselves to the state, allowing the state to step into areas it was never intended to be by the Founders, and exercise increasingly despotic powers, including disregarding the 4th amendment liberties of the people.

Read More: http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/dunkin/101208