Supreme Court Usurps Constitutional Rights
The Supreme Court Case of Atwater v. Lago Vista, 99-1408


By KT, Executive Editor
This month's editorial piece was inspired by an article from the Cable News Network story that appeared on April 24, 2001. It concerns the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Atwater v. Lago Vista. The case, brought against the city and the police of Lago Vista, TX, goes like this:

Gail Atwater was driving her children home from soccer practice in 1997 when a police officer noticed that they were not wearing seat belts. The officer, low on arrests for the month, stopped Atwater, handcuffed her, took her to jail, and seized her truck. Atwater, a mother and housewife who had no outstanding traffic violations, was not drunk, speeding or driving recklessly, nor smuggling drugs or running from the law, was arrested and booked simply because she and her children were not "buckled up".

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the judges ruled that the officer's abuse of power did not infringe Gail's constitutional rights because the officer's acts were "not so extraordinary as to violate the Fourth Amendment". The court majority reached this decision despite the fact that wearing a seat belt in one's own vehicle is a right protected by the Constitution, and it is an action which the Texas Motor Vehicle Laws do not consider an offense worthy of jail time.

Should we stand by and allow the Supremes to set such precedence, authorizing public servants to violate the 4th amendment rights of those they are paid and sworn to protect? Should the people of any state allow officers of the law to use the Motor Vehicle Code, which has been grossly expanded beyond its original purport, to attain quotas at the expense of law abiding citizens? Most would argue that there should be some regulation of people who drive, yet what began as simple regulation of commerce has vastly expanded into a body of unconstitutional rules whose main purpose is to generate revenues. As more people obey these "laws", fewer legitimate arrests can be made, which necessitates the implementation of even more invasive laws in order to maintain the ticketing, arrest and conviction rates, thereby maintaining cash flow. As this process goes unhindered decade upon decade, the following results:

1. Laws become more and more restrictive;

2. County government grows- particularly the policing, judicial, correctional, and administrative branches; yet

3. Real services provided by the county are cut back;

4. The quality of law enforcement decreases;

5. People become more ignorant of their rights;

6. Fees, fines and taxes increase;

7. Abuse of power becomes more prevalent.

Many citizens complain about this trend, yet so few take the stand necessary to stop it. Our Founding Fathers gave us the Constitution to protect us from such runaway regulation, bureaucratic growth, and wasteful spending, but the Constitution is only effectual when The People actively give it power. Maybe many would rather have our public servants take seriously Sheriff Richard I. Mack's tongue-and-cheek advice when he said,

Our country's police have taken a solemn oath to be defenders of the United States Constitution. Perhaps the oath of office if applied pragmatically would read, "I, officer Smith, solemnly swear or affirm, that I will faithfully write tickets and make arrests and follow all rules and orders by my superiors, the courts and the legislature, so help me God."

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Corruption in the Courts: The 1997 Trial Court Funding Act

What You Don't Know About The CA Vehicle Code