Third and Fourth Amendments

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I shouldn’t even have to discuss how the Fourth Amendment has been compromised.


"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."


Where to begin? Warrants have become a mere bureaucratic technicality, rubberstamped or often neglected altogether in the pursuit of drug offenders. No-knock raids have become a commonplace in modern American life. 92-year-old women are murdered and have drugs planted on them. Men who shoot no-knock invaders are sentenced to death, and if they’re lucky, have their sentences reduced to life – this happened to Cory Maye in Mississippi. Children are shot in the back. Family pets are killed by laughing officers as they break into homes searching for drugs.


With a real crime, it is often possible to have an "Oath or affirmation" backing the warrant, which can actually "describe the persons or things to be seized." In a murder case, a warrant can describe a bloody knife. Drug war warrants are typically too vague to pass constitutional muster. Mere suspicion that some law is being broken is often enough.


The courts have ruled that if the government tries to arrest you when you’re in public, and you escape into your home, they can now search the home without a warrant. As for automobiles, drug war roadblocks have erased the Fourth Amendment concerning cars, which are now treated as the property of the state.


The Supreme Court recently ruled that police may prevent people from entering their own homes while the police apply for a warrant. These abuses are often glorified on television as the necessary implements to catch vicious criminals, but they originated with, and are principally used for, the war on drugs.



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Americans tend to look at the Third Amendment as an anachronism. "No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law." Surely this hasn’t been touched by prohibition, has it?


Even by a very narrow reading, I believe it has. In one instance, in 1997, 40 members of the Army National Guard moved into the Las Palmas Housing Project in Puerto Rico to search for drugs. Years later, there were hundreds there.


More broadly, the entire spirit of the Third Amendment has been trounced. The point of the amendment was to prevent the abuses seen with the British Quartering Act, to protect Americans from having to quarter soldiers – to support them, even financially – except at wartime when and through legal means. But all around us, we have seen the police militarized in the name of the drug war.


Some conservatives objected when Bush modified the insurrection act and amassed more presidential power to call up the National Guard on his own say-so. But this trend began before 9/11. In a hearing on the drug war in 1994, then Congressman Chuck Schumer said, "The National Guard is a powerful, ready-made fighting force. Redefining its role in the post Cold War era presents exciting possibilities in the war against crime."


Also troubling have been the attempts to weaken Posse Comitatus, which since Reconstruction has forbade the use of the military in civilian law enforcement. But before the war on terrorism, there was the drug-war loophole. In the 1980s, Posse Comitatus was amended to allow for military-police cooperation in drug interdiction. Whereas the military was understood to be inappropriate for the enforcement of federal civil rights during Reconstruction, it was supposedly okay for the drug war. This precedent culminated in the largest massacre of American civilians by their own government since Wounded Knee.


Why was the military involved in Waco sixteen years ago? Because the government decided to treat their upcoming publicity-stunt raid as a drug measure. They claimed the Branch Davidians had a meth lab. That’s how they got the warrant and military involved. That’s how they got the military weapons. It was only later that the excuse shifted to child abuse or illegal gun ownership.