Notes: The United States Supreme Court ruled this past week that police can arrest and handcuff citizens for minor traffic offenses. The case arose from an incident in Lago Vista, Texas, when a female driver was arrested, handcuffed and taken to jail for a minor traffic offense. The offense: Neither she nor her children were wearing seat belts.

Of course, seat belts should be worn. But, there was no disorderly conduct, and common sense dictates that the female driver should have been given a citation, instructed to buckle up and sent on her way. The Supreme Court basically agreed with this proposition in its hotly contested 5 to 4 decision, yet ruled that such an arrest does not rise to fourth amendment protection against unlawful searches and seizures. Justice David H. Souter, writing for the majority, said that he doubted such incidents were widespread because of most police had the common sense not to arrest someone for a minor traffic offense. He went on to write that, regardless, political pressure could be brought to bear on police who went too far.

Possibly, Justice Souter and colleagues are making their decisions in an Ivory Tower. After all, no policeman is going to arrest and handcuff a judge of the United States Supreme Court for committing a minor traffic offense. It seems fair to speculate that Justices David H. Souter, William H. Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas might feel differently if they had been arrested and handcuffed for such an offense. 04.29.01