Integrity Legal

3rd March 2011

It recently came to this blogger’s attention through the Huffington Post website that a legislator in the sovereign State of New Hampshire has introduced a bill that could criminalize certain activities of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). To quote directly from the story posted on the Huffington Post official website:

A Republican state representative from New Hampshire named George Lambert has co-sponsored a bill that would make it a felony to touch or view someone’s private parts without probable cause.

Lambert was interviewed by MSNBC on Wednesday to discuss the bill, which would apply to TSA pat downs, as well as the agency’s x-ray scanners. The bill would essentially make it a sexual assault to conduct an invasive pat down or look at images of a traveler on one of the TSA’s new high-tech scanners.

Clearly, the TSA’s current policies on so-called “pat downs” (which many argue are unduly invasive and violate Constitutional protections prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure) and scanning are under fire from many different circles. However, the question must be posed: is New Hampshire Constitutionally permitted to enforce criminal sanctions against TSA officers? TSA officers operate under the jurisdiction of the United States Federal government’s Department of Homeland Security. Most currently binding American jurisprudence has found against the notion that State’s may enforce State law against Federal agents or institutions. The most notable case in this vein is probably McCulloch v. Maryland. In the language of the McCulloch decision, the Court found that the State of Maryland did not have the right to levy a tax upon the Bank of the United States. This decision set the stage for the, now rather sophisticated, premise that the States’ power to enforce State law is curtailed when attempting to enforce that law against the Federal government. Through later cases, this notion was expanded upon. This blogger recently found an interesting article on this topic entitled: What Kind of Immunity? Federal Officers, State Criminal Law, and the Supremacy Clause. This article delves deeply into the issues associated with Federal preemption of State prerogatives in matters pertaining to Federal operations and Federal agents and this blogger highly recommends those interested in this issue click on the link above to read this article.

It would appear from the plain language of the McCulloch decision that the States’ ability to enforce actions against the Federal government are not restricted completely. To quote directly from page 2219 of the What Kind of Immunity? article noted above, the article’s authors, Seth P. Waxman and Trevor W. Morrison, cited a section of the McCulloch decision which is noteworthy:

[N]o principle [of state power] . . . can be admissible, which would defeat the legitimate operations of a supreme government. It is of the very essence of supremacy, to remove all obstacles to its action within its own sphere, and so to modify every power vested insubordinate governments, as to exempt its own operations from their own influence.

At first blush, the above citation may appear to fully favor the Federal authorities on the issue of whether the sovereign State of New Hampshire has the authority to enforce criminal penalties against TSA officers, but one phrase is critical to an analysis of New Hampshire’s proposed legislation and that phrase is “legitimate operations“. In the McCulloch case, the Bank of the United States was deemed to be a legitimate operation of the Federal government notwithstanding the fact that the Constitution did not expressly permit such an institution because the Court reasoned that the Federal government, through the Necessary and Proper Clause, could establish a bank so as to facilitate the express Federal powers granted under the Taxing and Spending Clause. In short: the Federal government’s ability to tax and spend is considered a “legitimate operation” of the Federal government and if a bank facilitates that operation, then it is operating lawfully.

This analysis begs the question: Is groping Americans’ genitalia (also referred to as “enhanced pat downs”) and capturing nude body scanner images a “legitimate operation” of the Federal government? If not, then the State may have a right to enforce State criminal law against those who engage in such activity. That said, this issue is far from resolved and the State of New Hampshire has yet to actually promulgate this legislation, but clearly the issues noted above make for interesting jurisprudence.

For related information please see: US States.


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