TSA Illegally Detains Senator

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was detained for four hours at a Nashville airport on Monday, January 23rd, after declining a TSA request for a pat down. Believing that his first attempt at the scanner had triggered a false alarm, he asked if he could walk through the scanner once more. He was then denied a second attempt and briskly escorted by local police into a detention cubicle where he remained for four hours, missing his flight as well as his commitment that day to speak in front of a crowd of 200,000 at the March for Life rally in D.C.

After his release, he was allowed to board another flight after he went through the scanner again without setting off the alarm a second time.

Though the TSA argues that it acted properly and objects to the use of the word “detainment” to describe Paul’s treatment, according to Article 1, Section 6 of the Constitution it is illegal to hold in custody Congressmen who are traveling to and from Congress: 

They [the Senators and Representatives] shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same.

This is not to say that members of Congress are above the law and are not subject to the same security measures as non-office holding citizens while traveling under regular conditions. However, the law does state that members of Congress are exempt from being detained or held in legal custody specifically while traveling to or from a congressional session, thereby inhibiting or preventing them from attendance. This provision is meant to ensure that legislators are not prevented from attending important congressional votes and hearings. States also have this law for their respective legislatures. 

Two days before, Rand Paul had set off another scanner alarm in a Denver airport but was granted his request to walk through the scanner a second time rather than be subjected to the pat down. And ironically enough, just a couple months ago in a November Senate hearing, he had asked TSA Administrator John Pistole to alter TSA policy to allow passengers a second attempt through the scanner before being required to receive the pat down. Rand also suspects that many people are subjected to randomized, arbitrary searches due to intentional false positives built into the scanning devices:

But the other thing I learned today is, the screener is not going off because it detects something. The screener is part of a random pat-down process, where people are getting randomly pat-down, but they think the screener is going off because it detected something. And I didn’t realize that until today, because the screener goes off one time, and they finally let me go through it an hour later, and then the screener doesn’t go off. That’s because I must have been part of a random pat-down, but wasn’t told that initially. 

Further complicating the issue of whether Rand’s detention was Constitutionally lawful is the larger question of whether the mere existence of the TSA violates the 4th amendment in the first place.

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