On The Front Lines
Victory for the Constitution: Richmond Airport Officials Agree to Training Program for Police on Travelers’ First and Fourth Amendment Rights
RICHMOND, Va.— In a victory for the U.S. Constitution, officials with the Richmond International Airport (RIC) have required that all RIC law enforcement officers take part in a two-hour training course on the First and Fourth Amendment rights of passengers, guests and/or vendors. The required training, with materials for the course on travelers’ First and Fourth Amendment rights supplied by attorneys for The Rutherford Institute, was part of the settlement of a lawsuit filed on behalf of college student Aaron Tobey, who was arrested for engaging in a peaceful protest of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) use of whole-body imaging scanners and enhanced pat downs at RIC. The settlement also required Airport counsel to conduct a review and make recommendations on certain Airport regulations affecting Free Speech. The settlement comes on the heels of a 2-1 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that rejected an appeal by TSA agents seeking to dismiss Tobey’s claim that the TSA agents violated his free speech rights by summoning police after Tobey removed his shirt and exposed a portion of the Fourth Amendment written on his chest. “For us to hold today that it is reasonable to cause an arrest due to bizarre behavior and nothing more would violate the most basic tenets of our Constitution,” noted the court. Mr. Tobey has also entered into a separate settlement with the TSA and individual TSA agents.
“Whether it be construed as different, unusual or bizarre, non-disruptive expressive protest—which is what Aaron Tobey engaged in—is at the core of protected First Amendment speech,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Frankly, the nation would be better served if all government officials were required to undertake a training course on what it means to respect the constitutional rights of the citizenry.”
On December 30, 2010, Aaron Tobey, then a student pursuing a degree in architecture, was waiting in line to pass through screening at Richmond International Airport when he removed his shirt to show that he had written on his chest part of the text of the Fourth Amendment (“The right of the people to be secure… against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated”), which protects the privacy of individuals by forbidding unreasonable searches and seizures by government agents. Despite not presenting a security risk, Aaron was handcuffed, arrested and cited for disorderly conduct, which carries penalties of up to $2,500 and 12 months in jail. The charges were later dropped. Coming to Tobey’s defense, Rutherford Institute attorneys filed suit against the federal government in March 2011, charging that Tobey’s arrest and subsequent questioning without sufficient cause violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and his First Amendment right to not be discriminated against based on the content and manner of his expression. In August 2011, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson rejected the government’s motion to have Tobey’s First Amendment claims dismissed, ruling that Tobey’s civil rights would have been violated if the agents sought to silence Tobey’s expression. The Court of Appeals subsequently upheld that ruling. “It is crystal clear,” the court wrote, “that the First Amendment protects peaceful nondisruptive speech in an airport, and that such speech cannot be suppressed solely because the government disagrees with it.” Anand Agneshwar and Alan Veronick of Arnold & Porter and James Knicely and Rob Luther of Knicely and Associates assisted The Rutherford Institute in its defense of Tobey.