On The Front Lines
Victory: TSA Agrees to Drop $2600 Fine Against Texas Man Who Opted Not to Board a Flight Rather Than Be Subjected to Invasive Pat-Down Search
HOUSTON, Tex. — The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has agreed to withdraw a fine against a Texas man who, after successfully passing through an airport security metal detector and then being randomly selected to pass through a whole-body imaging scanner, chose not to board a flight rather than be subjected to a third search—an invasive pat-down—by TSA agents.
Jonathan Cobb was fined $2,660 by the TSA and charged with “interfering” with airport screening after he politely refused, based on past traumatic experiences with the TSA, to be subjected to a pat-down search at George W. Bush International Airport and opted instead not to board his ticketed flight. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute came to Cobb’s defense, challenging the $2660 fine as excessive and arguing that Cobb had a Fourth Amendment right to opt out of the search and elect not to travel.
Affiliate attorney Jerri Lynn Ward of Garlo Ward, P.C., assisted The Rutherford Institute in defending Cobb.
“What we are witnessing is an unofficial rewriting of the Fourth Amendment by government agencies and the courts that essentially does away with any distinctions over what is ‘reasonable’ when it comes to searches and seizures by government agents,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “The rationale, of course, is that anything is ‘reasonable’ in the war on terrorism. By constantly pushing the envelope and testing the limits of what Americans will tolerate, the government is thus able to ratchet up the level of intrusiveness that Americans consider reasonable. As Justice Robert H. Jackson, the chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, recognized, ‘Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government. Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart.’”
Jonathan Cobb was scheduled to travel to Chicago from Houston’s George W. Bush International Airport on February 25, 2019. Prior to boarding his ticketed flight, Cobb entered a TSA screening area. After passing through the metal detector without any alarms, Cobb was randomly selected for additional screening and told to proceed through the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) scanner. Although Cobb offered to remove his belt because he feared it would cause an alarm, the AIT operator instructed him to leave the belt on. The machine did alarm and Cobb was told that he must submit to a third search—a pat-down—of his body. Cobb politely and calmly refused, telling the agents that he would rather leave the airport and miss his flight than submit to a pat-down.
After Cobb refused to submit to the pat-down, he was taken to a private area, where a TSA supervisor told him he must submit to a pat-down because of the AIT alarm. Cobb explained that his refusal to endure a pat-down search was based upon a traumatic TSA screening in 2012 when he was selected for a pat-down, which he found excessively invasive and demoralizing. However, Cobb offered to allow a full visual inspection of his person or to reenter the AIT scanner without his belt. TSA agents reported the matter to local law enforcement. When Cobb continued to insist, calmly and firmly, that he would not submit to the pat-down and would instead choose to miss his flight, police escorted Cobb out of the airport. Two months later, Cobb received a notice that he was being fined $2,660 dollars for “interfering” with TSA screening. In coming to Cobb’s defense, Rutherford Institute attorneys argued that Cobb had a Fourth Amendment right to opt out of traveling rather than be subjected to an objectionable pat-down search by TSA screening agents.