Sunday, October 17th, 2004
ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) — Fears of a terrorist attack are not sufficient reason for authorities to search people at a protest, a federal appeals court has ruled, saying September 11, 2001, “cannot be the day liberty perished.”
A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously Friday that protesters may not be required to pass through metal detectors when they gather next month for a rally against a U.S. training academy for Latin American soldiers.
Authorities began using the metal detectors at the annual School of the Americas protest after the terrorist attacks, but the court found that practice to be unconstitutional.
“We cannot simply suspend or restrict civil liberties until the War of Terror is over, because the War on Terror is unlikely ever to be truly over,” Judge Gerald Tjoflat wrote for the three-member court. “September 11, 2001, already a day of immeasurable tragedy, cannot be the day liberty perished in this country.”
City officials in Columbus, Georgia, contended the searches were needed because of the elevated risk of terrorism, but the court threw out that argument, saying it would “eviscerate the Fourth Amendment.”
“In the absence of some reason to believe that international terrorists would target or infiltrate this protest, there is no basis for using September 11 as an excuse for searching the protesters,” the court said.
Michael Greenberger, law professor and director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Health and Homeland Security, said the ruling could have broader implications if it is used to challenge aspects of the Patriot Act.
It was surprising, he said, coming from the conservative-leaning 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, but the opinion was “very well-reasoned” and reflected “conventional application of constitutional principles.”
First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams said that though there are steps the government can take to protect people from terrorism, “that doesn’t mean we just dispense with the Bill of Rights as a consequence of 9/11.”
“We don’t yet live in a society in which everyone must always go through metal detectors everywhere we go.”