Airport Screening: Kids, Don't Try This at Home


The Transportation Security Administration has enough legitimate problems to deal with these days, including those chronicled by the Atlantic's own Jeffrey Goldberg, to have to waste its time defending against silly lawsuits. So all you Fourth Amendmentistas out there take heed: if you want to try to make a point about how you simply cannot live with some of the TSA's new screening procedures (which most of us never have to go through anyway), why don't you write your member of Congress, or better yet an op-ed, instead of trying to pick a fight with federal screening officials?

In other words, don't be like Aaron Tobey. His story is the story of a young man, age 21, with too much time on his hands. Looking to make a point about the onerous nature of the new federal screening rules, Tobey paraphrased the Fourth Amendment in marker on his chest. He wrote: "Amendment 4: The right of the people to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated." And then -- surprise, surprise! -- he was detained and questioned for a brief spell at Richmond International Airport by unamused federal officials after he stripped down to his skivvies at a screening checkpoint to get his message across.  

Even though the University of Cincinnati student sought out the pat-down screening measure so he could take his clothes off in the airport, and even though the feds subsequently dropped their disorderly conduct charge against him, Tobey and his attorneys now are suing the United States government for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Did I mention that Tobey pulled his stunt on his way to his grandmother's funeral in Wisconsin? Stay classy, Aaron! Well, not exactly Aaron alone. His lawsuit is brought to us by the Rutherford Institute, the conservative advocacy organization that once upon a time brought us Paula Jones.

Lawyers for the Institute have initiated a lawsuit on behalf of Tobey that seeks $250,000 from the feds. "They take an oath to support the Constitution," plaintiff's attorney John W. Whitehead said of airport screeners. "They need to be trained how to treat American citizens with care and dignity." Evidently Whitehead said this with a straight face on behalf of a client whose dignity fell to the floor last December along with his pants. Do you blame airport officials for asking someone in that frame of mind what their intentions are? Do you think a judge and jury will blame them? I don't.    

Sorry, but I have no patience for litigation of this sort. Tobey went to the airport spoiling for a fight with TSA officials. He got one. And now he wants the American people to believe he's a victim. Life is too short, and the TSA's work too important, and our tax dollars too precious, for such pranks.

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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, 60 Minutes' first-ever legal analyst, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. He is also chief analyst for CBS Radio News and has won a Murrow Award as one of the nation's leading legal journalists. More

Cohen is the winner of the American Bar Association’s 2012 Silver Gavel Award for his Atlantic commentary about the death penalty in America and the winner of the Humane Society’s 2012 Genesis Award for his coverage of the plight of America’s wild horses. A racehorse owner and breeder, Cohen also is a two-time winner of both the John Hervey and O’Brien Awards for distinguished commentary about horse racing.

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