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Supreme Court Allows Warrantless Searches of Welfare Applicants' Homes

Richard Blair: In the view of the Roberts court, it is better that ten innocents suffer than one guilty person escape.
 
 
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This post, written by Richard Blair, originally appeared on The All Spin Zone

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.

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 that courts eventually approved of the screenings -- 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 decline to hear a fourth amendment case from San Diego County, California that seems almost nazi-ish in nature:

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 The usual "proof of need" is no longer applicable.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.

Richard Blair is the blogmaster of All Spin Zone .

 
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