I’d feared that, after George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and, even worse, Barack Obama, the Fourth Amendment’s protection of our personal privacy had nearly vanished. But on April 17, a majority of the Supreme Court, ruling in Missouri v. McNeely, remembered a fundamental liberty we lost during the British occupation that helped ignite the American Revolution.
It should also be noted that the ruling was largely ignored by the pell-mell media in all of its forms.
As John W. Whitehead of the Charlottesville, Va.-based Rutherford Institute (”Dedicated to the defense of civil liberties and human rights”) put it in the organization’s news release headlining this vital decision: “Fourth Amendment Victory: Citing Bodily Integrity, U.S. Supreme Court Prohibits Police From Forcibly Taking Warrantless Blood Samples From DUI (driving under the influence) Suspects” (rutherford.org, April 18).
Whitehead had also filed an amicus brief before the court on behalf of the defendant in Missouri v. McNeely.
Here’s the case: While driving erratically in October 2010, Tyler McNeely was pulled over by a Missouri state highway patrolman, who arrested him on suspicion of drunk driving and took him to a hospital to undergo a blood test for alcohol content. McNeely didn’t want to subject himself to a blood test, but the officer ignored him and had his blood drawn anyhow. Based on the results of the blood test, McNeely was then charged with driving under the influence.
It’s worth noting that Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the majority of the court in upholding McNeely’s refusal to consent, described the forced extraction of a person’s blood as:
“An invasion of bodily integrity (that) implicates an individual’s most personal and deep-rooted expectations of privacy.”
Crucial to the outcome of this case, as Whitehead emphasizes, is “at no point did the officer attempt to obtain a warrant authorizing the extraction.”