Federal Appeals Court Finds Mass Metal-Detector Searches of Georgia Protesters Unconstitutional

Affiliate: ACLU of Georgia
October 19, 2004 12:00 am

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COLUMBUS, GA–The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia today applauded a federal appeals court decision to strike down an unconstitutional city policy that forces thousands of protesters coming to demonstrate against a combat training school in November to undergo mass metal detector searches. The court also strongly condemned the city of Columbus for using post-9/11 fears as justification for the searches.

“This groundbreaking decision is a repudiation of the idea that the First Amendment was dismantled by September 11’s tragic events,” said Gerry Weber, Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia, who originally argued this case in 2002. “Mass searches of non-violent protesters are completely unconstitutional and should not be tolerated in a free society.”

Today’s unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta comes in response to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Georgia on behalf of the School of Americas Watch in November 2002. The lawsuit challenged last-minute plans by law enforcement officials to erect multiple security checkpoints with metal detectors in a public street to search all individuals participating in an annual protest against the school. The ACLU argued that the searches are unconstitutional because they are conducted without probable cause or individualized suspicion.

The ACLU also argued that the measures would cause mass delays and congestion. According to the brief, even if each protester could speed through the security checkpoints in a minute, it would take more than 80 hours for all protesters to make it through the two planned checkpoints.

In its strongly worded opinion, the court wrote, “We cannot simply suspend or restrict civil liberties until the war on terror is over, because the war on terror is unlikely ever to be truly over. September 11, 2001, already a day of immeasurable tragedy, cannot be the day liberty perished in this country.”

The School of Americas Watch will hold its next protest on November 20-21.

For a copy of the ruling, go to http://www.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/ops/200216886.pdf

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