Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Adam Liptak reports in the N.Y. Times (7/16/07) that welfare recipients and applicants in San Diego are subject to unannounced visits and searches to assure that they are not defrauding the government. In other words, those "who want public benefits must give up their privacy", and apparently that means their rights under the Fourth Amendment regarding searches and seizures. Wow, what a great idea!

If that is the law and I were a law enforcement officer, I would be so ecstatic I wouldn't know where to begin. First, I think I would be tempted to bust into the offices of the defense contractors to see what evidence I could find of over-billing. But wait, maybe barge into those oil companies with their large subsidies to see whether or not there is any evidence of price fixing. But hold on, what about the cigarette companies and their tobacco subsidies and the possibility of gazing at those scientific reports they have and comparing them with what they have been saying for years to the public about their products.

The welfare investigators who happen to come across evidence of other crimes pass that information on to the appropriate law enforcement agency. So if any of the above corporate searches don't hit their original targets, maybe we can still find some tax evasion or bribes just by rummaging through their books in the same way the welfare investigators rummage through drawers looking for men's underwear.

However, the corporations receiving tax benefits or subsidies from the government should have the same opt-out options as the welfare recipients. Mr. Liptak points out that "the majority in a divided three-judge panel indicated "that people are free to opt out - by giving up their welfare benefits." In other words, welfare recipients (as in one of those game shows) can keep the money and give up their Fourth Amendment rights, or keep the rights and starve --both themselves and their families. Sounds fair to me.

So, corporations should have the same privilege. They can keep their subsidies, their tax breaks, their government contracts as long as they give up their Fourth Amendment rights, or they can retain those rights and give up the benefits. Right!

The purpose of these unannounced searches is laudable---to root out welfare fraud. But welfare fraud is a crime, and merely because it is "welfare" should not make the Bill of Rights inapplicable. When the poverty line was established it was not meant to provide that those who fall below it surrender their constitutional rights.


PDStP said...

Special rules are trending in two directions: (1) abrogating constitutional rights for the indigent and (2) insulating wealthy corporations from suits. The most recent debacle comes from the Third Circuit on Friday - pharmaceutical companies are now free to lie with impunity in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the Virgin Islands. http://www.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/055340p.pdf

Anonymous said...

If the government can condition receipt of welfare funds on the recipient's willingness to submit to warrantless searches, why couldn't they also condition use of a particular tax credit or deduction on the same thing?

Every one claiming any itemized tax deduction (for children; business expenses; etc.) could be required to submit to a warrantless search for the purpose of ensuring that the credit/deduction is legitimate. (Been claiming a home as your "primary residence"? Fine -- the govt should go into your closets and check whether the contents support that story.) Of course, if the authorities happen to see evidence of criminal activity in plain view during those searches, that is perfectly admissible.

Voila ! No more 4th Amendment! It was such a pesky little idea those people from 1791 stuck us with -- such a hassle...