FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

My Supreme Court Fashion Felony

by JAMES BOVARD

In March 1995, I visited the sacred burial ground of Americans’ rights and liberties – the Supreme Court. Working on an article for Playboy, I went to watch lawyers argue a case of great principle and tawdry details. Sharlene Wilson was a repeat offender and former government snitch who had been nailed for two sales of marijuana totaling $105. The state of Arkansas – which could not afford to pave many of its own roads – planned to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars incarcerating Wilson for the next 30 years.

The case reached the Supreme Court because Arkansas police carried out a no-knock raid on her home, during which they discovered marijuana and drug paraphernalia. John Wesley Hall, an Arkansas attorney and author of a treatise on the Fourth Amendment, believed the no-knock raid was unconstitutional and petitioned the court to overturn Wilson’s convictions for marijuana possession and paraphernalia. (He did not challenge Wilson’s drug dealing conviction.)

No-knock raids were routinely carried out by SWAT teams wearing masks and black Ninja outfits and toting submachine guns. The right to violently batter down a front door necessarily included the right to shoot any citizen who tried to stop the police from invading his home. And what did it take to justify government effectively declaring war on its own citizens?

Flush toilets. Law enforcement agencies were paranoid that the slightest delay in barging in could allow residents to flush away small amounts of drugs. The Clinton administration told the Supreme Court that “if the officers knew that . . . the premises contain no plumbing facilities . . . then invocation of the destruction-of-evidence justification for an unannounced entry would be unreasonable.”

Americans are raised to believe that judicial processes favor truth and fairness, but cravenness is the coin of the realm at the Supreme Court. I watched lawyers grovel before the Justices like slaves trying to avoid a whipping. Some Justices were martinets, interrupting and browbeating disputants to their hearts’ content. When Chief Justice William Rehnquist mocked one lawyer’s assertion, everyone in the house responded with a polite chuckle.

Hall, who was short, bearded and bespectacled, told the Justices that the “knock and announce” rule for police searches goes back to 1603 in English common law – before the Mayflower reached these shores. Hall included in his brief to the Court a Playboy piece I wrote -“Oops – You’re Dead” – chronicling cases of innocent people killed in no-knock raids.

One of the Justices asked Michael Dreeben, the zealous beanpole representing the Justice Department, if the Clinton administration thought that no-knock entries were always justified. Dreeben magnanimously granted two exceptions: PPH cover small 240 size 8615328506_c53c4847a9_m“if, based on confidential informants, the police know that all the drugs in question are stored in relatively indestructible crates,” and second, if cops were searching for stolen televisions, there “would be no reason to believe that the occupants would have any means of being able to destroy the televisions.”

Hall retorted that, according to Dreeben’s logic, “the more drugs you’ve got, the more right you have to an announcement” prior to a police search.

I thought that was hilarious. Alas – my boisterous laugh proved to be a solo performance. All the Justices – and dang near everybody else in the courtroom – turned and stared in my direction.

Being a rube, I did not realize that there were different standards for laughter, depending on whether the jokester was wearing a bat suit.  (Admittedly, my laugh has often spooked people and it did spark complaints from children when I worked as a Santa Claus at a Boston Filene’s Department store.)

Here is how the Washington Post’s Al Kamen described what happened next in his “In the Loop” column:

Once in Court, His Shirt Lost Its Appeal

There was freelancer James Bovard yesterday in the front row of the press section at the Supreme Court minding his own business: on assignment from Playboy magazine to cover oral arguments in a case about whether police officers with warrants must knock before entering a home.

About 15 minutes into the argument, a court police officer approached Bovard and told him to move to a rear alcove.

Seems Bovard had violated a Supreme Court rule — one that veteran reporters had never seen enforced — that asks the press sitting in the first two rows of the reserved section to follow the same dress code as those in the section reserved for the bar: coats and ties, general business attire.

It could not be learned whether the court police acted on their own or were prompted by a displeased justice.

A miffed Bovard says it’s not like he had on a T-shirt or anything. It was a light blue, striped, “fancy business shirt” that was from “Lord & Taylor.”

Maybe he should try Brooks Brothers.

After the hearing concluded, I had briefly returned to the press room. Several reporters who regularly covered the Court asked what I’d been told when I got the heave-ho. The Post reporter mentioned the episode to Kamen, who gave me a ring. I explained that my laugh had drawn the attention that sparked the eject. However, my response to his attire question provided a better story.

After reading about the incident in the Post, Nancy Dunne, a friend who wrote for the Financial Times, called and asked if I felt terribly embarrassed about the episode.

“Hell no – I wasn’t responsible for that stupid rule,” I replied. If people feel guilty about violating arcane, secret edicts, government agents can always subdue them by pulling out a rule book and pronouncing them “guilty.” The real problem was that I wasn’t permitted to summon police to haul away any Justice who voted to uphold some tyrannical federal policy.

The Supreme Court reached a new low in constitutional depravity the following year when it upheld the city of Detroit’s confiscation of a Pontiac jointly owned by a married couple after police caught the husband, John Bennis, getting tooted by a prostitute on the front seat. There was never any evidence that the wife had consented to the use of their vehicle for a dalliance. But the Clinton administration implied in a court brief that Tina Bennis was complicit because she failed to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent the illegal use of the vehicle. Since she had not hired a detective to stalk her husband, she had no right to complain about losing the car. Chief Justice Rehnquist based his decision on an 1827 case involving the seizure of a Spanish pirate ship that had attacked U.S. ships.

Regrettably, Rehnquist did not deign to explain the legal equivalence of piracy in the 1820s and contemporary fellatio. The forfeiture was justified as a way to curb prostitution; but, since police interrupted before she finished and was paid, Bennis was actually convicted only for “gross indecency.” This is a charge that any overheated teenage couple parking on Lovers Lane could face. The court’s ruling was so broad that even a married couple who stopped on some desolate dead-end street for a quickie (solely for the purposes of procreation) could lose their car.  I lampooned the decision in a Playboy piece titled “Blown Away.”

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy (Palgrave, 2006), Lost Rights: Destruction of American Liberty (St. Martin’s, 1994), and a new e-book memoir, Public Policy Hooligan. He is on Twitter @jimbovard and his email is jim@jimbovard.com

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books. Bovard is on the USA Today Board of Contributors. He is on Twitter at @jimbovard. His website is at www.jimbovard.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
Rob Seimetz
Measuring Manhoods
Edward Curtin
Sorry, You’re Not Invited
Vern Loomis
Winning the Lottery is a State of Mind
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mary V. Dearborn’s “Ernest Hemingway”
David Yearsley
The Ethos of Mayfest
May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail