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A tale of restraint: unproblematic or troublesome?

“A shadow is falling” over Americans, says one law professor who recently penned an article chronicling his frustration and fear in the wake of a news report he found particularly unsettling.

The genesis of his concern was this: people were searched.

That happens every day in the criminal law realm, of course, with legions of residents across the country, including in Tennessee, being subjected to police stops and searches.

Admittedly, there is a caveat to that, which must be mentioned in order to understand the writer’s discontent with something that happened to passengers who recently deplaned in New York following a domestic flight from San Francisco.

And that is this: The U.S. Constitution protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures, requiring authorities to have so-called “probable cause” before detaining an individual and legally compelling him or her to submit to a search.

Candidly, that lacked — entirely — in the deplaning incident, where every arriving passenger showed identification documents to federal customs officials after being told to do so. Agents say that they were looking for an individual subject to deportation. They didn’t find him.

The professor/author sees that event as essentially a slippery slope and a dent in the public’s armor that safeguards personal liberty. The federal statute that is seemingly most applicable to the situation states that a warrantless search can be carried out only when an individual is seeking entry to the United States and when a mode of transportation originated outside domestic borders.

That was hardly the case relevant to what transpired at JFK Airport.

A customs spokesperson says that every passenger’s submission was consensual. The position that any traveler could have freely declined to cooperate and simply walked off the airplane seems belied by one central fact: no one did. Customs and Border Protection agents got exactly what they wanted: an ID check of a plane load of people without a reasonable suspicion that any particular individual was involved in criminal activity.

The writer condemns that behavior, noting that “no legal authority” exists to support it.

And thus his above-cited reference to a falling shadow, which he says is progressively clouding Americans’ fundamental freedoms. Further erosion of our liberties, he says, “will be devastating.”