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Jesse Ventura sues the TSA for violating the Constitution

by Damon Eris, published

Though the public furor over the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration’s “enhanced” security protocols has died down since last November, third party and independent activists have quietly continued to organize opposition to the measures.  However, a lawsuit filed by former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura’s against the DHS and TSA has now brought the controversial procedures back into the public spotlight. 

On Monday, Jesse Ventura filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for violating the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  Under the new TSA security protocols, prospective airline passengers who are designated for “enhanced” screening, for instance, after setting off walk-through metal detectors, must submit to a whole body imaging scan or a full-body pat-down search.  Because Ventura has a titanium hip implant which sets off metal detectors, he is forced to undergo the enhanced security procedure every time he boards an airplane, which is frequently required for his work as a “television performer,” as stated in the lawsuit. 

Ventura’s lawsuit amounts to a full frontal assault on the DHS/TSA’s “enhanced security protocols.”  Essentially, the suit argues, since passengers are not free to leave the airport security area or decline to take their scheduled flights to avoid any additional screening, the enhanced protocols amount to an unconstitutional search and seizure.  

     “Absent reasonable grounds for suspicion,” the suit states, “ scans and pat-down body searches are unwarranted and unreasonable intrusions on Governor Ventura’s personal privacy and dignity and his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.”  

It goes on to argue that whole body imaging scans are tantamount to a “warrantless, non-suspicion-based” strip search, which is “demeaning and degrading” and meets the definition of “unlawful video voyeurism.”  The lawsuit objects to full-body pat-downs on similar grounds, stating that they “include warrantless, non-suspicion-based offensive touching, gripping and rubbing of the genital and other sensitive areas of the body,” which meets the definition of “unlawful sexual assault.”

Were it not for the fact that so many Democratic and Republican lawmakers have shown so little interest in addressing these ritual humiliations of American citizens by agents of the state, such a lawsuit would not be necessary.  As the suit states, “Governor Ventura has no other adequate and speedy remedy at law.”  See this article for the full text of the lawsuit.

Though Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota under the banner of the Reform Party, in recent years he has become an outspoken advocate of independent politics and an opponent of party politics as such.  In October of last year, Ventura told USA Today, “I do not support the third party movement anymore,” adding, “I now advocate the abolishment of all political parties. We've allowed the parties to take over the government.”  Ironically, however, third party advocates are among Ventura’s staunchest allies in opposing the TSA’s invasive security procedures.  As I reported here last November, Independent, Green, Libertarian, Pirate Party and Constitution Party activists were united in their opposition to the TSA’s new security protocols.  Since then, even some Democrats and Republicans have begun to voice concerns about the measures.

Earlier this month, the Electronic Privacy Information Center hosted a conference entitled “The Stripping of Freedom: A Careful Scan of TSA Security Procedures.”  Speakers at the event included Democratic Rep. Rush Holt, former Green Party and Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, the Executive Director of the Libertarian National Committee, Wes Benedict, as well as representatives of advocacy groups and think tanks, security experts, scholars and elected officials.  In his remarks, Benedict stated:

     “When Libertarians and Ralph Nader agree a program is's time for our government to listen,” adding, “I'm glad we have a Congressman or two participating today. I wish more Republicans and Democrats took our Constitution and Bill of Rights seriously.”  

Indeed, if they did, lawsuits such as Ventura’s might be unwarranted or unnecessary to rein in the excesses of the executive branch. 

A number of lawsuits against the TSA are still pending and others have been recently settled.  The Electronic Privacy Information Center has itself filed a lawsuit to suspend the use of full body scanners pending an independent review.  Their suit claims that the TSA program violates the Administrative Procedures Act, the Privacy Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act, and the Fourth Amendment.  

If today’s lawmakers are looking to cut spending on wasteful and counterproductive government programs, perhaps they need look no further.  As Art Carden recently argued at Forbes:

     “The new Republican House of Representatives took office amidst much fanfare about the US Constitution and respecting Constitutional limits on government . . . if they are really serious about it, they will start by abolishing the Transportation Security Administration.”