- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Texas legislature needs to grow a backbone. A state that prides itself on its independence and the slogan “Don’t mess with Texas” ought not to be easily cowed as the upper chamber was Wednesday. When the time came for a vote to hold the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) accountable for its despicable airport-screening practices, it only took a scary letter from a Department of Justice bureaucrat to convince enough senators to hoist the white flag.

On May 13, the state House of Representatives had unanimously approved legislation applying sexual-harassment statutes to TSA agents who conducted intimate searches absent probable cause and without the backing of a specific federal law authorizing the procedure. Because the rogue federal agency has neither, Obama administration officials resorted this week to intimidation to thwart the bill as it came up in the state Senate.

On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney John E. Murphy dispatched a letter to Texas Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst threatening to ground flights in the Lone Star State. “If HR 1937 were enacted, the federal government would likely seek an emergency stay of the statute,” Mr. Murphy wrote. “Unless or until such a stay were granted, TSA would likely be required to cancel any flight or series of flights for which it could not ensure the safety of passengers or crew.”

The bill’s primary sponsor, state Rep. David Simpson, a Republican, says that’s a bluff. “I don’t think it’s realistic at all,” he told The Washington Times. “I think it’s political cover.” Cutting off Texas would throw the entire air-transport system into chaos. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is the third busiest in the world and the primary hub for American Airlines. Last year, the airport handled nearly 1,800 flights per day. Houston’s three main airports served 135,000 passengers per day. Every domestic airline would be in court to challenge any move to cut off Texas just because TSA’s feelings were hurt.

This is the heart of the issue: Unelected bureaucrats demand carte blanche to mistreat the public in any way they choose. They don’t allow their judgment to be questioned. Mr. Simpson noted that the DOJ letter was dropped at the very last moment in the legislative process after all the votes had been lined up for final passage. “Why didn’t they come to my office over the last four months?” Mr. Simpson asked. “It’s pretty frustrating.”

At this point, with the clock running out on the Texas legislative session, extraordinary measures would be needed for the TSA bill to become law. Those steps ought to be taken to deliver a message to TSA and the Justice Department that they work for us, not the other way around.

Richard Diamond is a senior editor of The Washington Times and the former spokesman for the U.S. House Select Committee on Homeland Security.