JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (April 20, 2021) – A Missouri House committee has passed a bill that would put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot to prohibit roadside checkpoints in most situations. The ban on checkpoints would not only end constitutionally dubious “searches” in Missouri, but it would also take a step toward nullifying a Supreme Court decision and thwarting federal programs that heavily influence state traffic laws.
Rep Justin Hill (R-Lake St. Louis) introduced House Joint Resolution 11 (HJR11) on Jan. 6. If passed, the resolution would place an amendment to the state constitution on the ballot in November 2022 that reads as follows.
“No person shall be subject to a roadside checkpoint or roadblock established by a law enforcement agency except in an emergency situation to prevent the escape of a fleeing felon or in the event of civil unrest.”
Passage of the amendment would effectively end DUI and “safety” checkpoints in Missouri.
On April 8, the House Downsizing State Government Committee passed HJR11 by a 9-4 vote.
NULLIFYING THE SUPREME COURT
Passage of this state constitutional amendment would take a big step toward effectively nullifying and making irrelevant a Supreme Court opinion that gives police across the U.S. legal cover for roadblocks, sobriety checkpoints, and safety checkpoints.
In Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz (1990), the U.S. Supreme Court held that “properly conducted” sobriety checkpoints do not violate the Constitution despite the clear language of the Fourth Amendment. Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote the majority opinion in the 6-3 decision, asserting that a “substantial government interest” overturns the Fourth Amendment.
“In sum, the balance of the State’s interest in preventing drunken driving, the extent to which this system can reasonably be said to advance that interest, and the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists who are briefly stopped, weighs in favor of the state program. We therefore hold that it is consistent with the Fourth Amendment.”
Significantly, were it not for the dubious “incorporation doctrine” made up by the Supreme Court based on the 14th Amendment that purportedly empowers the federal government to apply the Bill of Rights to the states, this case would have never gone to federal court and we wouldn’t have these blanket rules.
Without specific restrictions from the state, police officers generally operate within the parameters set by the High Court. By passing restrictions on checkpoints, states set standards that go beyond the Supreme Court limits and in effect, nullify the SCOTUS opinion.
The federal government provides a large amount of funding for DUI checkpoints across the U.S. through Impaired Driving Countermeasures Incentive Grants and other Department of Transportations programs. The impaired driving grant program awards money to states that “adopt and implement effective programs to reduce traffic safety problems resulting from individuals driving motor vehicles while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or the combination of alcohol and drugs or that enact alcohol ignition interlock laws.”
In a 2010 investigative piece, Mother Jones reported that the federal government provides the California Office of Traffic Safety about $100 million each year to promote responsible driving that reduces roadway deaths. Of that, $30 million goes into programs that fund drunken driving crackdowns, particularly checkpoints.
In order to qualify for these grants, states must comply with a wide range of highway safety mandates – many that don’t even relate to impaired driving. In effect, this funding empowers the federal government to dictate state and local traffic laws.
This is part of a broader trend. The federal government has fundamentally transformed state and local law enforcement agencies into a national police force, using funding to incentivize local cops to focus on federal law enforcement priorities.
Eliminating sobriety checkpoints in Missouri would cut at least a few of these federal funding strings. Ultimately, the only way to untangle the federal government from local police departments is to cut the funding. While banning roadside checkpoints only addresses one small area, it takes a step in the right direction.
HJR11 now goes to the House Rules – Administrative Oversight Committee where it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.