Tuesday, December 30, 2003


A rumbling of justice thundered out of Maryland today.

The Court of Special Appeals has reversed the drug conviction of Chris Nieves, ruling that police obtained evidence during an unconstitutional strip-search of the Washington County man.

...A unanimous ruling last week by a three-judge panel said any search is an invasion of an individual's privacy, "but a strip search procedure flies in the face of individual privacy rights. Strip searches, moreover, particularly intrude upon the individual's sanctity of his own body."

Not unlike drug testing and DNA sampling without cause. Not unlike enacting laws against choosing what substances one might responsibly consume. The sanctity of our own bodies should be inviolable unless and until it infringes on the safety of another.

I find this a positive ruling and I especially like the sound of this.

"Where is the reasonable suspicion that drugs or other contraband are concealed in the particular place they decided to search? There is none," the opinion said.

Judge Thieme said the judges were "troubled by the fact that, any time an individual has a prior drug history, that history alone may be used to justify a strip search of the individual upon subsequent arrests for minor offenses."

"Officers on nothing more than a 'fishing expedition' for narcotics without an articulable suspicion whatsoever will essentially be given carte blanche to violate an individual's privacy when arrested for a minor offense," the opinion said.

Wasn't I just talking about fishing expeditions in California yesterday?

* * * * *

Someone told me once the 9th Circuit Court was tough but I'm beginning to love these guys. On the heels of the landmark decision debunking the interstate commerce ploy and upholding the state's right to legislate on medmar, they ruled yesterday that Kanab, Utah, artist Thomas Forsythe's parody of Barbie falls within the Bill of Rights.

Holding that social criticism was protected by the First Amendment, the court affirmed a 2001 federal court ruling for Forsythe, who had produced photos of nude Barbies in danger of being attacked by vintage household appliances.

I kind of remember the original buzz on this story but couldn't find a link to the photos. In any event, the series does convey a valid message.

The artist had argued that the photo series, which also included a photo of Barbie dolls wrapped in tortillas and covered in salsa in a casserole dish in a lit oven, was meant to critique the "objectification of women" and "beauty myth" associated with the popular doll.

"Barbie is the most enduring of those products that feed on the insecurities of our beauty and perfection-obsessed consumer culture," Forsythe has said in defending his work.

Barbie is such a persistent icon in this century, as the court noted she was "ripe for social comment" and although I loved my multitude of Barbies when I was a child, (especially the one with the hair that grew), she probably contributed to my adolescent angst about not being perfect.

Mattel tried to suppress his art by claiming fair use doctrine. Last word goes to the judge that put the common good above private interests.

In his opinion, Ninth Circuit Court Judge Harry Pregerson held there is abundant evidence to support that advertising for Barbie uses associations of beauty, wealth and glamour.

"Forsythe turns this image on its head, so to speak, by displaying carefully positioned, nude and sometimes frazzled looking Barbies in often ridiculous and apparently dangerous situations" presenting a different set of associations for the dolls, whose smiles show they are "disturbingly oblivious" to their predicaments."

The same could be said for social consciousness these days.


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