On nearly every essential point, I agree with the aforementioned statement. Yet I must dissent from the suggestion that sobriety checkpoints to prevent drunken driving are inefficient and constitutionally dubious. There is a temptation in some ideological circles to label unconstitutional any policy that feels uncomfortable or creates the sensation of invasiveness. The Board should know better.
Certainly, there is debate in this country about the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints — but not as much as there used to be. Some states are genuinely uncomfortable with the idea, and their laws reflect this discomfort. Yet federal law currently permits sobriety checkpoints, per the Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz (1990) U.S. Supreme Court decision. The Court’s reasoning is straightforward: To prevent drunken driving, the state has the right to momentary invasion of privacy. And lest we forget, Sitz was far from a statist Court decision: The majority opinion was clear that the constitutional status of checkpoints depends upon implementation.
The common affirmation, “Those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither,” incorrectly implies democratic societies must choose between liberty and security. We deserve as much liberty as we can rationally claim against competing interests. It is always more appropriate to say, “Those who would trade some liberty for some security deserve some liberty and some security.”
Here, the liberty being traded serves a “compelling state interest” — addressing a public safety concern that slaughters thousands each year. It is constitutionally-fortunate that only an ancillary degree of invasiveness is required to address drunken driving through sobriety checkpoints. If checkpoints are operated constitutionally (and they should be), they will be no more invasive than being carded at a bar or visited for a minute at home by a police officer checking on neighborhood safety.
But, some will argue, what about the slippery slope? If we allow sobriety checkpoints, don’t we unlock a Pandora’s Box of serious constitutional infractions? Not really. In Indianapolis v. Edmond (2000), the Court determined the logic upholding sobriety checkpoints did not extend to drug-detection checkpoints because the latter did not pose an “immediate vehicle-bound threat to life and limb.” So we need not worry about sobriety checkpoints being used as precedent for more invasive efforts: The Supreme Court has already ruled unconstitutional the most immediate and plausible extension of the hypothetical slippery slope.
The constitutionality of checkpoints, of course, says nothing about their practicality. The Editorial Board voices concern about whether checkpoints are an efficient use of resources and whether drunken drivers will simply learn to avoid them. These are serious objections, but aren’t police resources already expended on much less worthwhile efforts than monitoring drunken driving on high traffic roads? And why assume that all drunken drivers will be familiar enough with local geography to plan their negligent behavior around knowledge of checkpoints? The worst-case scenario, it seems, is that checkpoints successfully catch some drunken drivers. I can live with that. Drunken driving kills, after all. And so, unfortunately, does sloppy libertarianism.