January 27, 2013 Civil Rights Suit Against TSA allowed to proceed.
Meet Aaron Tobey in protest of the TSA deploying advanced imaging scanners and intrusive pat downs when going through airport security stripped down to running shorts (rather tight fitting ones based on the picture) and requested a hand search. In addition Mr. Tobey had written an abbreviated version of the 4th amendment to the US Constitution on his chest. This amendment prohibits search and seizure without warrant.
In response the TSA quickly phoned local police who detained Mr. Tobey and charged him with disorderly conduct and released him. Later the District Attorney dropped those charges. Mr. Tobey proceeded to file a civil suit against the TSA, and local police for deprivations of civil rights under 42 USC 1983. 42 USC 1983 makes any agent of the government liable for deprivation of civil rights when acting outside of the agent’s authority.
The government moved to dismiss all claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The government argued that even if everything Mr. Tobey said is true, he still can not claim relief under 42 USC 1983, because the agents were in there authority. The court dismissed all claims save one that the TSA and police violated Mr. Tobey’s first amendment right to free speech.
The government appealed and this week in a 2-1 decisions lost in circuit court of appeals. The opinion can be found here http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Published/112230.P.pdf
What does this mean. Well it means if the government does not appeal the decisions to the 4th circuit en banc, the lawsuit will proceed. It does not mean Mr. Tobey has won anything other than he has claim against the government.
What does this mean for you? Well unless you want to get into it with the TSA nothing. If your desire is to start problems with the TSA it means a great deal. The opinion notes two things the peaceful and non-violent nature of the protest and that it was not “disruptive” to TSA operations. The TSA has a broad definition of disruptive, so far from what I have found that they consider arguing with the TSA or berating them while they are doing their job to be disruptive. Go figure you can not be insulting to them.
So according to this ruling, peaceful, non-violent, non-disruptive protests could be protected under the first amendment. While I am no fan of the TSA or their somewhat questionable regulations, I have found that is just easier to ignore them and get on with my travel experience.