- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2001

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled it is constitutional to handcuff and arrest even the most minor offenders — including "subway snackers" on the D.C. Metro and a soccer mom driving without a seat belt.
"If an officer has probable cause to believe that an individual has committed even a very minor criminal offense in his presence, he may, without violating the Fourth Amendment, arrest the offender," the court said in a 5-4 opinion written by Justice David H. Souter.
The ruling threw out a civil rights lawsuit filed by Texan Gail Atwater, who was handcuffed, photographed and jailed for one hour in 1997 after risking a $50 fine by driving her pickup truck home from soccer practice with no seat belt on herself or her children, ages 3 and 5.
"The arrest and booking were inconvenient and embarrassing to Atwater, but not so extraordinary as to violate the Fourth Amendment," the court ruled, predicting officials will avert excessive arrests under yesterdays ruling either by "good sense and, failing that, the political accountability."
As proof for that theory, Justice Souter noted that Washington Metro Transit Police revised their zero-tolerance arrest policy for "subway snackers" after a furor over the arrest of a child eating french fries on a station platform, a case not before the court.
Justice Souters role in upholding laws similar to those in all 50 states and the District marked an unusual switch in which he wrote for the conservative bloc while Justice Sandra Day OConnor argued the civil liberties issue in her dissent.
Joining Justice Souters opinion were Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.
Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer voted with Justice OConnor, whose dissent described Mrs. Atwaters arrest as "the quintessential seizure" that opens an arrested person to a full search.
"The court neglects the Fourth Amendments express command in the name of administrative ease. In so doing, it cloaks the pointless indignity that Gail Atwater suffered with the mantle of reasonableness," Justice OConnor said.
The Fourth Amendment forbids "unreasonable searches and seizures." The decision that Mrs. Atwater may not sue the city of Lago Vista and arresting officer Bart Turek upheld rulings by the federal trial judge and the full bench of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In a second decision yesterday, also by a 5-4 vote, the court dealt a setback to activists who seek to overturn "English-only" laws adopted by 25 states.
It ruled that private persons cannot sue a state to enforce federal regulations intended to prevent racial or ethnic discrimination.
Martha Sandoval brought such a lawsuit to overturn Alabamas "English-only" requirement for drivers tests, but the court threw it out.
The lawsuit claimed that Alabama violated a federal regulation — not a law — barring states from spending federal money in a racially or ethnically discriminatory way.
The opinion written by Justice Scalia said Congress did not expressly create in Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act the private right to sue over violations of such regulations.
Endorsing that view were Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices OConnor, Kennedy and Thomas. The dissenters were Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer and Souter.

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