The Car-Centric World and the Ongoing Expansion of Police Powers

While cars are still equated with freedom of mobility and personal liberty, they've also offered courts the chance to expand police powers in the public realm, time and time again.

July 23, 2019, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock

Sarah A Seo, author of Policing the Open Road, writes for The Atlantic on the implications raised by police powers over motorists traveling the public realm in their vehicles.

Seo describes the fundamental conflict under study in this article thusly:

Officers’ power is fundamentally at odds with the notion of freedom on the open road. In American culture, driving is an expression of personal liberty. But under the law, driving is a privilege, not a right, and drivers are subject to extensive police surveillance.

It's a paradox, according to Seo, and one that the justice system continues to wrestle with, but largely doesn't interfere with the advancement of police power. The Supreme Court recently "punted" on a decision, according to Seao, in the case Mitchell v. Wisconsin, deferring to police discretion. It was hardly the first court to do so, according to Seo: "Even as Americans have built a society around cars, judges have abdicated their role of limiting law enforcement’s power over people’s daily lives."

Seo is not advocating that the state relinquish regulatory control over the safe and legal operation of motor vehicles when so many lives are at stake, but writes to raise the question of how many regulatory strings are too many.

Monday, July 22, 2019 in The Atlantic

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