Warning: The next time you are stopped for a routine traffic violation, you might also be visited by man's best friend.
Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court approved the further erosion of our basic civil liberties. In a 6-2 decision, the court broadened the powers of law enforcement officers by allowing them to use drug-sniffing dogs, regardless of probable cause.
At the heart of the matter is the case of Illinois v. Caballes. The case centered around an officer who pulled over a motorist for exceeding the speed limit by 6 mph. Another officer overheard the radio transmission, and showed up to assist with his drug dog. The dog sniffed, focused on the trunk, and led to the discovery of marijuana.
Arguing in favor of the ruling, Justice John Paul Stevens opined that any perceived invasion of privacy was minimal.
"The dog sniff was performed on the exterior of the respondent's car while he was lawfully seized for a traffic violation," Stevens wrote in his opinion. "Any intrusion on the respondent's privacy expectations does not rise to the level of a constitutionally cognizable infringement."
In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the voice of reason, held that the mere presence of a drug dog makes the routine stop much more adversarial.
"Under today's decision, every traffic stop could become an occasion to call in the dogs, to the distress and embarrassment of the law-abiding population," Ginsberg wrote.
It's not a stretch to imagine that drug dogs may very well soon be sniffing their way through parking lots of Jimmy Buffet concerts, and even more frightening, through the streets of our neighborhoods.
In this day and age, when the Patriot Act hangs over our heads like a black cloud, and the Religious Right has taken up residence in the White House for another term, this latest turn by the country's highest court is just another slap in the face of our civil liberties.
We urge Arizona to follow the lead of several states around the country: ban the use of drug dogs unless there is probable cause.
We cannot allow the government to tamper with probable cause, a fundamental legal protection. We need to remember the rattlesnake, representing our vigilance, on the Gadsden Flag, and embrace its motto, "Don't Tread on Me."