Two articles examining the legality of the airport screening regime so many have come to take for granted appear in the online supplement to The Northwestern University Law Review: Revisiting “Special Needs” Theory Via Airport Searches by Professor Alexander Reinert of Cardozo and The Bin Laden Exception, by Professor Erik Luna of Washington and Lee.
The Reinert article treats the judicial acceptance of the airport screening regime as a foregone conclusion, and labors to limit the fallout:
[T]he TSA’s new search regime is more difficult to square with fundamental Fourth Amendment principles than the FAA’s initial airport screening procedures. Therefore, precisely because of the pressure on courts to adjust Fourth Amendment doctrine to meet the perceived needs of the TSA and the traveling public, it is all the more important that new doctrinal limitations accompany any judicial acceptance of the TSA’s new search regime. Specifically, I argue here that if courts are to give the TSA’s new search regime constitutional approval, it must be limited to its justifying purpose—safe air travel—and it must be grounded in the special needs exception to warrantless and suspicionless searches. Making explicit what has been implicitly required by most of the Supreme Court’s special needs jurisprudence, I propose a special exclusionary rule for searches like those conducted by the TSA that will best limit the ex post utility of such searches to their ex ante justifications. Under my proposal, the use of evidence discovered as a result of mass suspicionless searches like the TSA’s screenings should be limited to prosecutions for offenses that relate to the asserted justifications for the search regime. This link between justification and permissible use is one novel way to limit the reach of a special needs justification for these airport searches. In a way, then, the TSA’s new search regime offers an opportunity to revise and revisit special needs jurisprudence to minimize the risk that the exception will ultimately swallow the Fourth Amendment’s traditional preference for searches based on warrants and individualized suspicion.
The Luna response is even more pessimistic about the vitality of the incredible shrinking 4th Amendment:
In effect, TSA agents may now search any and all items in one’s baggage, given the sweeping claim that explosives “may be disguised as a simple piece of paper or cardboard, and may be hidden in just about anything, including a laptop, book, magazine, deck of cards, or packet of photographs.” Moreover, evidence of an agent’s impermissible motive—for instance, searching a bag for contraband wholly unrelated to terrorist threats—will be ignored so long as the TSA’s “programmatic motive” is airline safety. …
In the end, I just wish everyone would be a bit more honest. What is at play here is not a previously recognized exception to the Fourth Amendment—consent, good faith, special needs, and so on—but instead an entirely new exemption from otherwise applicable requirements, driven by an abiding fear of al Qaeda and its now-deceased kingpin rather than a reasoned assessment of terrorism-related risks. Let’s call it what it is: The Bin Laden Exception to the Constitution. If nothing else, putting a name to the systematic evasion of the nation’s most hallowed legal text might force some to face their own irrationality and question the wisdom of bending the Constitution, as well as spilling vast amounts of blood and treasure, all for the sake of one evil man and his outlaw organization.
Spotted via Pogo Was Right, On the Colloquy: The Fourth Amendment and Airport Screening Issues.