A Message from Pat Barber re
JUST SAY NO TO SEARCHES!
15 November 2002
This is just a brief note to let you know my impressions of the Texas Supreme Court oral argument Thursday on our Just Say NO to Searches! billboard case. It took the state Supremes almost a year and a half to decide to hear the state's appeal, so I was kinda surprised that it was set for oral argument so quickly. The argument was heard in Amarillo. The Court choose it for their traveling show, rather than hear the case in Austin. The auditorium was packed with civilians and the local bar. I met the local state district judges, as well as several of the local attorneys. I am pleased to report that they were uniformly supportive of our side of the billboard issue ... a "classic 1st Amendment case", as one district judge put it.
It will probably be months before a decision is announced. From the justices' questions, I believe we have a good chance of a favorable opinion, but we will just have to wait and see. One justice, who is known to have a lot of religious right support, asked the state's attorney, if the justice's home were near an interstate highway and he put up a billboard visible from the highway that said "Jesus is Lord", would that sign be in violation of the statute. The state's attorney answered that it would be in violation. The Chief Justice argued with the state's attorney that my billboard was just about the only practical way to reach the interstate traveler. The Court was short a member due to a recent resignation, so there could even be a 4-4 tie, which should throw the case back to the 3rd Court's decision for me.
I am gratified when I hear from someone who has been helped by the Just Say NO to Searches! billboard publicity. Recently, a local Hispanic lady, who commutes to Big Spring for night classes, told me she was stopped for a defective trailer hitch by a Drug Task Force officer; a totally bogus attempt at probable cause to stop since there was nothing [wrong] with her hitch, and the officer asked if she minded if he looked in her trunk. She said she did mind. Whereupon the officer threatened to get a search warrant, though he had absolutely no probable cause to search and could not have legally obtained a warrant. In effect, the officer was lying; surprise, surprise. The lady continued to refuse her consent and after a brief delay, was allowed to continue on her way without the humiliation of a search. It is results like this, multiplied by who knows how many citizens who have learned they can say NO to searches that make all this aggravation worthwhile.
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