With their refusal to hear a San Diego County case yesterday regarding unannounced searching of homes of public assistance applicants, the Supreme Court once again turned noted English jurist William Blackstone on his head. In the view of the Roberts court, it is better that ten truly needy people suffer than one potential fraudster escape.Perhaps you just don’t care. After all, it’s just Cadillac welfare queens that the refusal applies to, right?
You better think again…
Back in the mid-1980’s, when big companies started requiring employees to submit to random drug and alcohol screenings, it was quite apparent that privacy and fourth amendment constitutional protections were under serious attack. There were two lines of reasoning with which the courts eventually concurred in approving of drug testing — workplace safety and, hey, if someone didn’t want to submit to the testing, they were free to quit the job.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court declined to hear a fourth amendment case from San Diego County, California that just feels off-the-hook wrong:
The Supreme Court rejected a challenge Monday to a county’s practice of routinely searching welfare applicants’ homes without warrants and ruling out assistance for those who refuse to let them in.
The justices refused, without comment, to intervene in the case from San Diego County, where investigators from the local District Attorney’s office show up unannounced at applicants’ homes and conduct searches that include peeking into closets and cabinets. The visits do not require any suspicion of fraud and are intended to confirm that people are eligible for government aid…
No one (except the impacted families) will care about this case, but it should be exceptionally concerning to everyone. Why will no one care? Because (once again) the erosion of civil liberties starts at the bottom of the economic ladder, with those who are least personally equipped to resist.
Think about it. If you apply for public assistance in San Diego County, Ca., you are granting agents of the government the right to come into your house, unannounced and without a warrant, and examine every nook and cranny to make sure that you’re not committing welfare fraud. The usual “proof of need” is no longer applicable. If you are poor in San Diego County, you are presumed guilty until proven innocent.
Like the random drug testing before it, the excuse of prosecutors is that, well, if applicants don’t want their homes searched, they are free to refuse. And then not receive public assistance. Let’s also posit that a vast majority of public assistant recipients are young, single mothers who have few other options in terms of feeding their children or keeping the lights on or paying the rent.
No one is going to argue that there isn’t some degree of fraud in public assistance programs. But in the past 10 years or so, it’s become harder and harder to scam local and state governments, and the myth of the “Cadillac welfare queens” has been largely disproven. Most people would much rather work than be on public assistance, particularly when they have mouths to feed.
Around the time of the American revolution in the late 1700’s, English jurist William Blackstone opined that “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
With their refusal to hear the San Diego County case yesterday, the Supreme Court once again turned Blackstone on his head – in the view of the Roberts court, it is better that ten innocents suffer than one guilty person escape.
About Richard Blair
Richard “Cranium” Blair is the founder and blogmaster of All Spin Zone. He’s a Vietnam-era veteran who is blessed (or cursed, depending on your view) with what he describes as “a finely tuned bullshit detector”. Past and present lives include writing for a major metro newspaper, shipping porn, punching holes in the ocean for the U.S. Navy, managing a large innercity food bank, managing SAP installations, and general computer related tomfoolery. In a distant past life, he was also an INPO / National Nuclear Academy certified systems engineer in the nuclear power industry. Richard has testified before congressional subcommittees, and worked with congressional staffs to educate them on techical issues. He’s also a contributing blogger at AlterNet and writes occasionally for Philly Indy Media.