Remember the Fourth Amendment

U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin’s ruling that the controversial New York City law known as “stop and frisk” is unconstitutional should be regarded with respect.

Law enforcement may need a way to be able to detain or pat down a suspicious person, but this must be done without violating constitutional rights. In her ruling, the judge said the program amounted to “indirect racial profiling” by targeting blacks and Hispanics disproportionate to their populations.

Authorities must balance public safety and preservation of people’s rights and freedoms carefully.

That also goes for the federal government. Thanks to leaker Edward Snowden and the Washington Post, the public now knows that the National Security Agency overstepped its authority thousands of times since 2008 by spying on Americans without their knowledge and without warrants. This needs to stop immediately.

Here, complete and unedited, is the text of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

That remains the law of the land. If mayors, presidents, police chiefs, cabinet ministers and other public executives continue to violate this or other constitutional guarantees, they can expect ongoing rebukes from the courts. That’s why the Judicial Branch is there. Clearly it’s needed.