Civil Liberties

The Special Needs Doctrine and the Fourth Amendment

4th Amendment (Photo Credit: The Huffington Post)

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution states, “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.”  The U.S. Supreme Court uses three approaches in rendering decisions involving the 4th Amendment: the Warrant Approach, the Reasonableness Approach, and the Special Needs Doctrine.

The Warrant Approach (also known as the Traditional Approach) is the approach the Court uses when it requires probable cause and a warrant to be secured in a case to characterize a search and/or seizure to be legal.  Most people are familiar with the aforementioned approach to the 4th Amendment.  The Reasonableness Approach allows law enforcement to engage in a legal search and/or seizure if there’s reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred and probable cause would eventually be obtained by executing the search and/or seizure.

While I’m sure that some people (maybe many) will believe that the Reasonableness Approach to interpreting the 4th Amendment is problematic enough, the Special Needs Doctrine is much more problematic.  The Special Needs Doctrine is employed by the Court to permit law enforcement the right in emergency cases to conduct searches and seizures without a warrant and without probable cause.  These emergencies cases have to be in the interest of protecting public safety.  This doctrine contends that protecting the public safety is far greater a concern than protecting individual privacy.  The Court recognized that there are emergency cases where obtaining a warrant and probable cause is “impracticable.”  The Court posits that law enforcement should be empowered with the ability to act in the interest of protecting public safety and not compromise public safety simply because it was unrealistic to obtain a warrant and probable cause.

Although I’m a strong supporter of giving government the tools it needs to protect the American people, this doctrine does open up the possibility for law enforcement to invade people’s privacy.  Each time law enforcement acts in the name of “protecting public safety” isn’t an authentic effort to safeguard public safety.  As a student of history, I’m aware that the American government has a history of violating individuals’ privacy for selfish and malicious purposes.  One thing we must continue to work on at the national level is finding the right balance between national security and civil liberties.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Political Correctness Threatens Free Speech and Dissent

At the recent Fellowship Foundation National Prayer Breakfast, Dr. Benjamin Carson gave a speech that has received tremendous national attention because it critiques President Obama’s handling of the national debt, healthcare, education, taxes, and etc. in ways unfavorable to him.  What should not get lost in the responses to the speech, however, are the powerful comments he makes about America’s current insistence on political correctness.  Political correctness is threatening to diminish one of most important purposes of the First Amendment: protect unpopular speech.  While the First Amendment still protects unpopular speech, many people in positions of power are finding ways to create conditions where dissenting voices will face serious repercussions.  While it was not the politically correct thing to do, Dr. Carson did not allow a burgeoning American penchant for political correctness to keep him from disagreeing with President Obama on substantive issues while at this event that traditionally has not been a place where dissent has been accepted and while being in close proximity to President Obama.

When one elects to defy political correctness, he or she must be ready for backlash.  Many employers will establish a hostile agenda against employees when they voice disagreement with their policies and practices.  Although the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is charged with the responsibility of protecting employees from this type of discrimination, employees are not always safeguarded from this discrimination.  Many employees are too afraid to exercise their First Amendment rights because they fear losing their jobs.  Political correctness informs employees to remain silent and keep their disagreements with their employers private.  Unfortunately, too many people buy into this promotion of silence and end up getting crushed by the misery of their silence.

More lawyers, philanthropists, organizations, and etc. need to be willing to help individuals to combat efforts by powerful employers to mute their employees.

What good is the First Amendment if the American people are afraid to exercise the rights it guarantees?

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and other organizations deserve tremendous appreciation for their offering of free legal representation to individuals to fight against employers’ efforts to abrogate their employees’ First Amendment rights.

America would have never gained her liberation from Great Britain had it not been for the value of dissent the colonists evinced.

Some employers are even arrogant enough to place in writing that they forbid their employees from using their First Amendment rights to speak in opposition to them.  We certainly need more organizations like the ACLU and NAACP to rise up and aid in striking a mighty blow against political correctness and First Amendment violations.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission needs to be much more aggressive in defending employees against employers who engender conditions where political correctness is mandated, especially when it comes to employees’ rights and requests to have religious, racial, and viewpoint accommodations.

While this piece has focused primarily on political correctness in the workplace (and a little on political correctness in general), it is crucial to understand that political correctness is present in virtually every space of American life.  We deny the dangers of political correctness and don’t engage in efforts to eradicate it at our own peril.

What did you think about Dr. Benjamin Carson’s statements about political correctness?  What did you think about his critique of President Obama’s handling of the national debt, education, taxes, and healthcare?  Do you agree or disagree that political correctness is a threat to free speech and dissent?

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison