Posted by Brad @ 4:04 pm on June 27th 2009

The Campaign for Liberty Worker Harassed by the TSA Files Suit

I wrote about the story when it broke in April here and here. Now, in tandem with the ACLU, Steve Bierfeldt has filed suit. Interesting caveat to that: the suit is specifically not seeking punitive damages, but is being pushed forward the the explicit intent of having those kinds of searches (TSA pulling you in a room and grilling you because you have a legally allowable but large amount of cash) declared unconstitutional.

ST. LOUIS (AP) A lawsuit filed Thursday against the Transportation Security Administration alleges a Ron Paul supporter was unreasonably detained at the St. Louis airport because he was carrying about $4,700 in cash.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of Steven Bierfeldt, director of development for the Campaign for Liberty, an organization that grew out of Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign.

The organization had hosted an event in St. Louis that included the sale of tickets, T-shirts, stickers and other materials and Bierfeldt said he was carrying the cash proceeds in a metal box when he was detained at Lambert Airport for about 30 minutes on March 29.

The lawsuit does not seek money but asks the court to declare the TSA’s actions unconstitutional and to prohibit the agency from similar searches when there is no evidence aircraft are endangered.

“It’s obviously important that the safety of flights be ensured,” Bierfeldt said in a telephone interview. “But subjecting innocent travelers like me who are doing nothing wrong I think it diverts TSA away from its core mission of safeguarding air travel.” […]

Bierfeldt’s attorney, Ben Wizner, said the lawsuit does not challenge TSA’s authority to search and detain those suspected of taking weapons, explosives or other dangerous objects onto planes.

“That’s the whole purpose of airport searches,” Wizner said. “These are not, however, open-ended criminal searches.”

That is such a smart, well-played move on Bierfeldt and his attorney’s parts. Likely, whatever judge hears it will dismiss it because judges, on the whole, bend over backwards to write blank checks to the authorities when it comes to searches. But at the very least, the TSA will have to justify, in court, their ability to do exactly what Wizner says—open-ended “fishing” criminal searches on grounds other than endangerment. Presuming it gets past the legal hurdles to be considered on its face, a judge dismissing it would have to be comfortable ruling that the TSA has, in effect, absolute discretion to search and detain for any reason it feels like, or that mere undocumented and unchallenged “suspicion” on the part of any given TSA authority is an absolute legal blank check. That would be a tough call for a judge to make (not that they wouldn’t), and if he did find for Bierfeldt, it could wind up being a pretty important keystone ruling in limiting the powers of the TSA.

If there is a legal defense fund or comparable, I’m contributing to it. In light of that though, consider contributing to the ACLU, for my money the single greatest advocacy group on any issue in America today. This is the kind of work they do and it is, at every turn, vital to our republic.

(or hell, throw some bucks to the Campaign for Liberty, on our blogroll to the right, which is proving itself pretty savvy in these kinds of things).

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