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Texas Wants to Throw TSA Employees in Jail or Something

March 9, 2011 at 2:22 PM | by | Comments (0)

Our credibility on demanding TSA reform is pretty good - see here and here and here and probably here and here and maybe also here, and that's just the last month and a half. But what's going on in Texas seems like a silly distraction.

About 20 legislators have teamed up to author a series of bills criminalizing the use of TSA's full-body scanners and enhanced patdowns, and threatening to legally punish TSA workers who implement those policies. The immediate question that everyone asks when they hear about this: "wait, can they do that?"

Short answer: of course not. Longer answer: maybe, maybe, maybe legally, but definitely not after Congress gets involved.

We aren't lawyers so we can't really reliably speak to how a court case would play out, and there'd definitely be a court case by the federal government challenging the state law. Technically this would be a debate over whether a federal agency's rules trump state law, and you can't answer that question without digging into the Congressional law that established the rule-making authority and set its limits.

We have neither the energy nor the ability to dig into the statutes circumscribing DHS's ability to set its own rules, though we suspect their authority is pretty broad. The key thing to understand, though, is that it doesn't matter how a court case would play out since—if TSA lost—Congress would just pass a law broadening DHS's authority. Remember: this isn't about the specific rule about body-scanners, but about DHS's own authority to decide on what it can and can't do in general.

You'd think the situation would play out the other way, since TSA is wildly unpopular in Congress. But terrorism still exists, and members of Congress don't like getting blamed for terrorism.

We went over the exact same issue when we covered the TSA privatization debate. Anyone who loosens TSA regulations is going to get tagged for the next terrorist attack, and nobody wants to be both "soft on terror" and "responsible for terrorism" (fairly or unfairly). Apparently that's not a consideration for Texas lawmakers, but you can be quite certain that every member of Congress knows exactly how that would play out.

This is a publicity stunt.

[Photo: TSA]

Related Stories:
· Bills target full-body scans, pat-down searches at Texas airports [Star Telegram]
· Airport Security [Jaunted]
· Texas Travel [Jaunted]

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