Indelible Ruling: Federal Judge Allows Case of Free Speech Protester To Go Forward Against TSA

Aaron Tobey attained a degree of fame in carrying out a rather novel form of protest for civil liberties at an airport security point. Tobey stripped down and used a black marker to display a quote from of the Fourth Amendment on his bare chest reading “The right of the people to be secure … against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated.” He was arrested for his conduct, but now federal District Judge Henry Hudson had ruled that part of his lawsuit against the TSA can go forward to trial.

The lawsuit names two airport security screeners who had Tobey arrested after he stripped down to a pair of running shorts and a constitutional quotation on the Dec. 30, 2010 incident at Richmond International Airport. While dismissing other counts, Hudson allowed the case to proceed on the first amendment claim of free speech violations. This will now allow Tobey to start discovery with TSA, which could reveal some interesting evidence on how this case (and other cases like it) have been handled.

Hudson wrote “The question … is whether the [screeners] in fact radioed for assistance because of the message [Tobey] sought to convey as opposed to [Tobey’s] admittedly bizarre behavior or because of some other reasonable restriction on First Amendment activity in the security screening area.”

This could make for an interesting case so long as Tobey continues to file arguments in paper form.

Source: CSMonitor

25 thoughts on “Indelible Ruling: Federal Judge Allows Case of Free Speech Protester To Go Forward Against TSA”

  1. I just wish TSA would STOP STEALING stuff out of my checked bag and leaving their little ‘note’. And damn tired of it because there is no recourse that I can find.

    So far, they stole a very expensive pocket knife and two stingray wallets I bought as presents for friends on two separate occasions.

    Do not leave anything in your checked bag that could get stolen.

  2. This is funny and shows how stupid some of the screeners are. It will make for an interesting case for sure. My favorite one was when an airline captain was being near strip searched and he objected to the extent. The screener said that they had to make sure that he did not have a weapon that would let him get control of an aircraft!

  3. pete:

    Luther and King both understood that nonviolent civil disobedience carries with it the likelihood of punishment. The point is to raise the discussion about the unjust law through self-sacrifice not to be excused from its excesses. That is both the nobility and the dilemma of civil disobedience. It was King who said, “Ordinarily, a person leaving a courtroom with a conviction behind him would wear a somber face. But I left with a smile. I knew that I was a convicted criminal, but I was proud of my crime.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., March 22, 1956).

    King was echoing Luther, who famously wrote centuries before, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason (I do not believe in the authority of either popes or councils by themselves, for it is plain that they have often erred and contradicted each other) in those Scriptures that I have presented, for my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” (Reply to the Imperial Diet at Worms, 1521).

  4. disrupting the process has always been a crime

    ask martin luther
    or martin luther king

  5. What bizarre behavior? Taking off his shirt? How is that bizarre behavior, when the required procedure includes the taking of nude photos?

    Before the security theater procedures were codified as they have been, I was required to take off my pants in an open hallway at LAX, in full view of everyone in the airport.

    No, I don’t fly any more. Why do you ask?

  6. “When they took the fourth amendment, I was silent because I don’t deal drugs. When they took the sixth amendment, I kept quiet because I know I’m innocent. When they took the second amendment, I said nothing because I don’t own a gun. Now they’ve come for the first amendment, and I can’t say anything at all.
    Tim Freeman”

  7. Mespo

    “‘bizarre behavior’ designed to disrupt the process. ”

    Isn’t that exactly what all civil disobedience and non-violent protests are?

  8. Someone posted this on another thread a few days ago…

    FAST: Future Attribute Screening Technology

  9. Tobey represents a formidable YIng to TSA’s Yang. Contrary to what I read sometimes, I find TSA workers competent and polite here in Richmond. I also find Tobey’s principled stance admirable and Judge Henry Hudson’ s ruling fair. Judge Hudson is a former prosecutor and very conservative. He is however a constitutionalist and I find his posited question of fact a reasonable one and germane to the motives of the TSA workers involved. Recall that speech is protected, not “bizarre behavior” designed to disrupt the process. If the workers genuinely tried to restrain and suppress Tobey’s message as opposed to his alleged bizarre behavior, they do have something to worry about constitutionally. If not, they may be deemed to be acting reasonably to provide security and prevent disruptions to the travel plans of thousands of passengers. These cases are what makes lawyering fun and keeps the Constitution off of life-support.

  10. “Had the agents been smart they would have thanked him for his constitutional exercise, suggested he write his elected officials and sent him on his way.” -Frankly

    Yes…, but some of them are merely “useful idiots”… If only we had more Aaron Tobeys… I wish him well.

  11. When you are in the business of security theater (and trampling the rights of citizens), you should expect critics. Best of luck to Mr. Tobey. May your discovery efforts expose the TSA for the sham outfit it really is . . . pardon the pun.

  12. They hired a bunch of minimum wage workers, trained them poorly and did not anticipate the obvious resentment their procedures would engender. You see this sort of poor decision making regularly with well trained officials (arrests for film public officials performing public functions etc), why would you not expect the at least the same if not worse from TSA?

    The problem is when you give people authority a certain percentage of them believe that means you can’t question them or lampoon them. Had the agents been smart they would have thanked him for his constitutional exercise, suggested he write his elected officials and sent him on his way.

  13. I wonder if he would have been arrested had he been wearing a t-shirt suggesting the TSA and its inspectors commit a physical impossibility–using graphic language?

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