A showdown is in the works over an anti-patdown law, which the Texas House of Representatives recently approved by a unanimous vote. Texas legislators say the rule is needed because existing laws “let government employees fondle innocent women, children and men.”
The Department of Justice has sent a letter to Texas legislative leaders warning that the rule would run counter to federal laws, and could cause the Transportation Security Administration to “cancel any flight or series of flights for which it could not ensure the safety of passengers and crew.”
In a statement, the bill’s supporters insist that they aren’t violating any federal laws, and that their legislation includes appropriate exemptions for TSA officials:
“The bill clearly states that an agent is exempt from prosecution as long as a constitutionally sanctioned federal law directs them to perform the invasive, indecent groping searches-including touching breasts, sexual organs and buttocks,” noted State Representative David Simpson (R-Longview), the bill’s author.
“Instead of threatening to shut down flights in Texas, why doesn’t the TSA just show us their statutory authority to grope or ogle our private parts?” asked Simpson.
“All that HB 1937 does is require that the TSA abide by the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution,” Simpson continued. “We aren’t even prohibiting the pat-downs, per se. We’re just saying you can’t go straight to third base. You have to have a reason-you have to have probable cause-before groping someone’s sexual organs.”
In its letter to state officials, U.S. Attorney John E. Murphy warned:
HB 137 would conflict directly with federal law. The practical import of the bill is that it would threaten criminal prosecution of Transportation Security Administration personnel who carry out the security procedures required under federal statutes and TSA regulations passed to implement those statutes. Those officials cannot be put to the choice of risking criminal prosecution or carrying out their federal duties. Under the Supremacy Cause of the United States Constitution, Texas has no authority to regulate federal agents and employees in the performance of their federal duties or to pass a statute that conflicts with federal law.
If HR 1937 were enacted, the federal government would likely seek an emergency stay of the statute. Unless or until such a stay were granted, TSA would likely be required to cancel any flight or series of flights for which it could not ensure the safety of passengers and crew.
Texas lawmakers don’t seem in any rush to blink: “Someone must make a stand against the atrocities of our government agents,” Simpson said in a statement.
DOJ Threat: We Touch Your Privates or You Don’t Fly [Rep. David Simpson]
Letter from U.S. Attorney John E. Murphy [PDF]