After 40 years of practicing law, Rutherford Institute founder John Whitehead says he is “creeped out” by the decline in respect for civil liberties in the United States.
Whitehead, author of the new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (released June 25 by SelectBooks), spoke to the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner at the Barracks Road Barnes & Noble just before delivering a talk about his fears of increasing authoritarianism in the United States.
A longtime civil-liberties attorney who once represented Paula Jones in her lawsuit against President Bill Clinton, Whitehead offered his assessment of the U.S. Supreme Court term that ended on June 26 with a pair of rulings about gay marriage.
“One of the worst” terms ever, he said sharply.
This year, he said, the Supreme Court “basically upheld policemen taking you into custody and not giving you your Miranda warnings.” The Court also, he explained, eroded the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination because “now by being silent it’s evidence of guilt.”
The Court, he added “approved the strip searching of anybody. If you’re arrested now you can be strip searched by police for minor offenses like running a stop sign.”
‘Statist Supreme Court’
“What I’m seeing is a very statist Supreme Court,” Whitehead explained.
“Some people say it’s a right-wing Supreme Court. Well, I’m not sure it’s right-wing. I put it more in the statist camp.”
He said the voting rights decision (in Shelby County v. Holder) was made “as if racism’s no longer in America. Well, what I’m seeing in America is, there is a lot of racism.”
He gave the example of how “90 percent of the people who are arrested for marijuana offenses in New York City are either African-American or Hispanic but all evidence shows that whites smoke marijuana at a much higher rate than people with brown skin.”
Justices of the Supreme Court, Whitehead cautioned, are “living in an ivory tower.”
Supreme Court members are “chauffeured about in limousines and they don’t know what we have to go through out here, especially if we’re people of color.”
On Fourth Amendment rights, Whitehead noted that “Justice [Antonin] Scalia, whom I’ve been critical of in the past, and the women on the Supreme Court have been great in their dissents.”
Four instance, he said, those four justices objected “to the forced taking of DNA from people now. If you’re arrested for anything, they can go into your body and take your DNA.”
The DNA decision is part of what Whitehead calls “the new movement toward bodily probing.”
He explained that, “in large cities across the country, police are stopping men on the street and doing rectum searches, sometimes causing bleeding. This is without a warrant, without arresting them.”
He gave the example of how recently in Texas, “two women were pulled over for throwing a cigarette out of a car. The policeman accused them of smoking marijuana” but when he found no cannabis in the car, “he called for back up, [who] did vaginal and rectum searches on the women without changing their gloves.”
Those Texas police officers, he said, have “been sued for a million and a half – and they should have been sued.”
Offering advice to citizens, Whitehead warned, “I just say, be alert. Let’s read the Bill of Rights again. Most people don’t even know what’s in the Bill of Rights. It’s 462 words but most people have never read it. Can you believe that? 462 words, you can read it in less than five minutes.”
Because “we’re not teaching [the Constitution] in school anymore, people don’t know” what it says.
“If you’re stopped on the street and they want to do a really weird search on you,” Whitehead advised, “assert your Fourth Amendment rights.” The police “have to have probable cause.” Before they begin a search, he said, citizens should ask, “Am I doing something illegal, officer?”
Next: John Whitehead talks about the growing American police state.