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Monday, September 26, 2005


Constitutional Rights?

(I don't have a specific article to reference, as it has already gone into the "Pay-to-View" archive.)

The New York Times, regarding the Hurricane Katrina debacle a few weeks ago, reported that people who chose to stay in New Orleans after the storm struck were being forced to evacuate by local police. This is interesting in context of the Constitution since the 4th Amendment guarantees:

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.

It appears to me that the right to be secure in our persons and houses against seizures of any kind means that even in the event of a crisis such as a hurricane or flood, the choice to remain in one's house is still guaranteed by the Constitution. Because there is no probable cause, a person's removal from his/her house would be an unreasonable seizure. Simply because the government says that it is in the best interest of the people to evacuate the city, it can not force people to leave. Rational people will choose the best course of action given the cost of the next best alternative foregone. Maybe some people are prepared for survival even after being severed from the societal matrix--why should they have to leave?

From the perspective of government as a Protective State, its role is to protect our natural rights--which includes the right to do as we will with our person or property as long as it does not infringe upon anyone else's individual rights. The Constitution does not make provisions for the usurpation of these innate rights during crisis situations, so I believe that forced evacuation of any kind is unconstitutional. After all, the person who stays behind risks harm to him/herself, but nobody else does through his/her action. The best thing the government can do in such situations is provide information and let people make their own decisions, although a Paternal State would have a hard time with this.

I'm pretty sure Dennis is correct.

Perhaps the interesting thing to consider is that his comment was prompted by the reporting in a prominent newspaper.

What I mean by this is that I have strong reason to believe the newspaper's report was factually inaccurate. What I understand to have happened is the mayor was asked by some reporters if the police were going to be ordered to forcibly remove people from their homes. His reponse was something like: "Not today, but we may start doing that tomorrow or the next day." In other words, until directly asked, the mayor was bluffing or threatening to remove people forcibly from their homes, and when directly asked he didn't directly answer with the information his legal people had given him. What was that legal information? Pretty much what Dennis argued.

No level of government can take a person from their home. And, I believe this is true even under "marshall law." Government can take people off a public street for public health and safety reasons, but government cannot forcibly take people from their homes.

So, one moral I see in Dennis's comment is that you cannot trust newspapers to print the truth. Unfortunately, I have, over the years, found this to be true on many, many occasions.
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