No Constitutional Right To Police Protection, Says Judge: The Law and Judiciary Need To Empower Citizens To Hold Public Servants Accountable
Victims of the 2018 Valentine's Day shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High received upsetting news when a U.S. District Judge ruled police and schools have no Constitutional obligation to protect students. The judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by15 students against six dependents, including the Broward school district and the Broward Sheriff’s Office, that asserted students were Constitutionally guaranteed the right to police protection, thus the bungled response to the shooting represented a violation of their right to Due Process under the Fourteen Amendment. To add insult to injury, the judge proclaimed only those in police custody, such as those arrested, were entitled to such legal protections. Given police are empowered to “protect and serve” their communities, or at least that is why most people accept the empowerment of police, the ruling is outrageous. Unfortunately, it is only one of many examples showcasing the need for a just legal system and criminal justice system that appears to be evermore elusive.
From a legal perspective, the aforementioned ruling makes sense, because the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment affords citizens legal protections from government action. While the Due Process Clause has been stretched to provide citizens with a legal right to government protection when it comes to non-government entities engaging in actions that undermine the Constitutional rights of citizens, that specific Constitutional provision likely does not entitle citizens to police protections. That said, Congress and State legislators have the power to craft laws that explicitly give citizens the right to adequate police protections. In the case of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Massacre, also known as the Parkland School Shooting, police and school officials were clearly unprepared for a shooting incident and they made numerous fetal errors. The only armed resource officer on duty is believed to have stayed outside throughout the entire duration of the massacre in an act of presumed cowardice. It is a case involving negligence and dereliction of duty, which are two legal areas not likely covered by the Due Process Clause.
If laws and the police truly exist to protect and serve the people, the fact that the Fourteenth Amendment does not offer those injured by the negligence of those charged with securing government institutions and public spaces, such as schools, should not matter. Other legal protections should already exist to ensure those who fail to honor their commitments as public service face legal consequences. Pubic servants, from school security officers to the President of the United States, should be held accountable. They should also be held to a higher standard by the Law and the legal system. Laws and courts should not shield those public servants who fail to fulfill the responsibility of their privileged positions of power. In large part, the decision of the U.S. District Judge in question was motivated by the need to protect law enforcement and public officials from frivolous and malicious lawsuits. There is, of course, a need to prevent the legal system from those who would abuse it for personal gain and political reasons, yet those protections cannot be allowed to shield those who are negligent or do wrong.
If the US Constitution does not provide the American People with the Constitutional protections needed to hold negligent school officials and law enforcement accountable, lawmakers need to provide citizen with the legal recourse they require. The Constitution is simply a legal framework that defines the structure of government and sets the limits of government power. It is the responsibility of local, State, and Federal lawmakers to fill in the blanks, so government can function. Victims of school shootings may not be able to sue police and school officials based on the Fourteenth Amendment, but the Fourteenth Amendment most likely gives them the legal rights to get the authority needed to hold negligent public servants accountable. They should not, however, have to resort to suing for the right to hold public servants accountable. Lawmakers need to act on their own. The Law and judiciary need to protect, not harm and disempower, the public while it is the responsibility of lawmakers to ensure these institutions do just that.
Over the course of decades, US political leaders have sought to politicize the judiciary, thus undermining the independence and objectivity of the courts. They have done this to remove obstacles to their efforts to pass politicized laws that violate the Constitutional protections of various groups of US citizens. It is the result of partisans, who have no respect for judicial review and Constitutional limits, viewing their political objectives and priorities as sacrosanct. There are court rulings, such as the aforementioned ones, that are politically offensive, yet prevent the politicization of the courts. The banning of Nativity scenes on public property, for example, create outrage, but they also keep politics and government out of religion while protecting the right to freedom of religion. A recent ruling declaring Obamacare unconstitutional based on tax law changes and a previous Supreme Court ruling on the individual mandate, in contrast, is politically offense, yet also undermines legal protections afforded to individuals. The Judge in that case based his ruling on his politically-biased interpretations of lawmaker intentions, including his assumption that the Affordable Care Act was only legally functional due to the individual mandate. The individual mandate was adopted to make the reform law function economically, but that has nothing to do with the legal functionality of the law.
From the Constitution to laws to Supreme Court decisions, the Law, the criminal justice system, and Judiciary must work together to empower individuals. They must also work to check the abuse of power by public officials as well as hold public servants accountable when their negligence causes individuals and communities harm. Currently, the US President faces a myriad of legal issues due to his often shady business activities before he was elected as well as the questionable activities of his associates during his Presidential run and transition. It has raised questions as to whether or not a sitting President can be indicted. It has also raised the possibility of rule changes that could pave the way for a potential indictment of President Trump. Naturally, the debate has split along partisan lines, but it should not. If Trump committed crimes, he should be held accountable. If he did something illegal, the fact that he is President should not exempt him from accountability. The position should hold the man to a higher standard, not create lower standards for the man who holds the position. The same is, of course, true of all public servants.
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