The U.S. Coast Guard, a branch of the military, force their way aboard commercial and private boats in U.S. and foreign waters every day wearing combat boots and sidearms. They don’t ask permission to board. They don’t have to. Congress okays it. The Supreme Court okays it.
But what about the Fourth Amendment, you ask. Doesn’t the Coast Guard know that the Fourth Amendment is the part of the Bill of Rights that guards against unreasonable searches and seizures? Don’t they know that the Fourth Amendment requires any search warrant to be approved by a judge and supported by probable cause?
Yes, they know, all right. Congress knows, too. So does the Supreme Court. But just as Congress and the White House and the judiciary support searches of travelers in airports without probable cause, and wiretapping of ordinary U.S. citizens without cause, so also do they turn a blind eye to the transgression of the Fourth Amendment that results in armed Coast Guard raids on innocent sailing and power vessels, sometimes even in port at night, but mostly while they’re under way.
We like to boast to other nations about the democratic safeguards inherent in the Fourth Amendment that prevent a takeover of America by a despot or a military junta. That’s a joke if you’re a boater. We’ve already been taken over.
The website SailFree, which I believe is attached to Sail magazine, raises an interesting point in an article by Clark Beek. He says each member of the Coast Guard has to swear an oath of office that goes like this:
“I____do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office I am about to enter. So help me God.”
Maybe, says Beek, they need to change it to:
“I____do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States, except the Fourth Amendment part. Except for the Fourth Amendment I will defend the Constitution against all enemies . . . “
So let’s not pretend to be upset by the whistleblower revelations that the U.S. government has already turned into Big Brother. You’ve either got to be a hypocrite or mentally challenged to believe that we live in a democracy in which our elected representatives carry out the will of the people.
Today’s ThoughtThe struggle against demagoguery scarcely fits the St. George-against-the-dragon myth . . . Our democratic St. George goes out rather reluctantly with armor awry.
— Norman Thomas, NY Times 2 Dec 84
TailpieceWhen his personal assistant kept making one mistake after another, the boss couldn’t stand it any longer.
“What’s the matter with you?” he demanded. “Are you in love or something?”
“Of course not,” the assistant said indignantly. “I’m a married woman.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)