By now we're all familiar with the Transportation Security Administration's new screening procedures at airports. The agency's fancy 3D body scanners and controversial pat-down methods both draw a lot of criticism, though a challenge to the latter out of Texas had the Department of Justice threatening to ban air travel out of the Lone Star State.
The Texas House of Representatives passed HB 1937, a bill that would ban invasive TSA pat-downs that make contact with your most personal areas. Under the proposed law, an improper touch from a TSA screener would see that employee fined up to $4,000 and tossed in a Texas stockade for up to a year for a misdemeanor crime.
Well, the Department of Justice didn't like that too much:
"If HR 1937 were enacted, the federal government would likely seek an emergency stay of the statute. 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 and crew."
In other words, no option for a pre-flight pat-down, no flight. Turns out that's one hell of an ante, and the Texan State Senate folded soon after.
Texas legislators weren't fighting the law simply because of the affront to dignity the "gropings" represent. Instead, lawmakers were concerned by the immunity to the law TSA screeners enjoy in the event of an indecent touch. One might argue that this immunity is necessary to ensure airport security, yet the flip-side here is that obvious injustices can't be prosecuted.
The former argument really banks on our human decency to one another. Just think: with this immunity, it's wholly possible for a TSA employee to touch you anywhere, in any manner, and there's nothing you could do about it.
"The bill clearly states that an agent is exempt from prosecution as long as a constitutionally sanctioned federal law directs them to perform the invasive, indecent groping searches-including touching breasts, sexual organs and buttocks," State Rep David Simpson, the author of the bill, said in a statement. "We aren't even prohibiting the pat-downs, per se. We're just saying you can't go straight to third base. You have to have a reason — you have to have probable cause — before groping someone's sexual organs."
PS, I'm not going to make a "mess with Texas" joke here, but you certainly can.