Poor Justuce



The Supreme Court of the United States has just refused to hear a case involving the government requiring warantless searches of people's homes as a prerequisite to receiving benefits from public assistance. Evidently, poor people don't have any right to an expectation of privacy, that is reserved for people of means.

What are your rights? Do your rights depend on your financial situation? Should they? Evidently, the US Supreme Court doesn't have a problem with laws that deny poor people their right to avoid unreasonable search and seizure (4th Amendment). The case is a very simple one:

Does the State of California have the legal right to enter and search the home of any resident of the State of California without a warrant, only because that legal citizen has applied for some form of public assistance?

The State of California claims that there is too much welfare fraud. They contend that they should be able to deny benefits to any legal resident who does not allow agents into their residence to search the entire premises, and go through all their belongings. They want to presume that any asking for assistance because you're poor is probable cause for a search: in their view, asking for help is a crime. It is a crime because the legal precedent is that we only allow the state to invade people's privacy when there is a reasonable presumption of a crime.

We all know that fraud is a terrible problem in social assistance programs. We know that it costs taxpayers a great deal of money every year, paying out assistance to people who neither need assistance, nor deserve assistance. We have a remedy for this. We hold fraud to be illegal and if your are found to have committed it, you will very likely go to jail. But in the case of John Doe, who has committed no crime, is a legal resident of the state, and who is experiencing a difficult financial period in his life, why should he lose his 4th Amendment Rights because of what other people have done?

I guarantee you that many criminals possess hand guns and use them in commission of crimes. If we're going to be consistent about this, then we have to grant the state the right to take away everyone's hand guns because the possession of a hand gun often results in crime. Justice stands to reason, doesn't it? Of course, the reason why this won't happen is because many people who own guns have serious amounts of wealth and they have the ability to pay lawyers to ensure that their Constitutional Rights will not be abridged.

Poor people have no such luxury. Poor people have to rely on you and me to cry foul when the US Supreme Court refuses to even hear arguments in such a case. If we want the government to respect our rights, we have to be ever vigilant of government actions that threaten us all.

Of course, if we make public assistance abhorrent to people because of the cost of humiliation and loss of respect and human dignity, we will reduce the incidence of honest people who apply for assistance. This will tend to reduce the cost of the program. Of course, we have to take into account the teams of very expensive government employees who are paid to conduct these searches, their transportation, the police we pay to accompany them, and all the paperwork that is generated by an endless routine of investigation. Seems to me that we may not actually achieve even a thin dime's savings from this program.

And do not forget that every time you take away options from a poor person to legally obtain assistance in times of real economic hardship, you turn more and more otherwise honest people to crime. If you were poor and your children were hungry what would you do to feed them? Whatever it takes. Sometimes it takes crime. Public assistance is a legal alternative to crime, for honest people, not just an opportunity for crime for criminals. Justice does not punish the innocent with the guilty. Good government does not consist of the government doing what it likes to people who are powerless. Time and time again, history teaches that what government first does to the powerless, it does eventually to all but the very powerful.

And if the government only needs to demonstrate a theoretical cost savings as a good enough reason for extinguishing our rights and liberties as free citizens, then how much is your freedom worth?


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