Judge Rules Stadium Searches Unconstitutional

A Florida appeals court judge ruled that searches of fans entering sports stadia were unreasonable and therefore violate the fans’ constitutional rights.

Appeals court: No pat-downs at Sunday’s Bucs game (AP)

Fans won’t be searched at this weekend’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers game after an appeals court Friday lifted a temporary stay on an injunction that halted pat-downs at Raymond James Stadium. The Second District Court of Appeal lifted the stay after an emergency motion by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which filed a lawsuit Oct. 13 on behalf of Bucs season ticket-holder Gordon Johnston. He says the searches violate his constitutional rights because they were “invasive without necessity.”

ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon said they were “thrilled” with Friday’s decision. “The erosion of basic freedoms in this case is especially misguided because the search policy that the NFL is attempting to impose on every football fan in America is ineffective and designed only to create only the illusion of safety,” Simon said in a statement.

Circuit Judge Perry Little issued an injunction last week on the searches, but a stay was instituted automatically when the Tampa Sports Authority, which operates the stadium, filed an appeal Wednesday. The Tampa Sports Authority, which operates the stadium, approved the pat-downs in September after the NFL asked all teams to conduct them.

While I agree 100% that these searches are “invasive without necessity,” not to mention idiotic, it is unclear to me why the owner of a private facility could not make them a condition of entry into the premises. Perhaps there is something in the Florida Constitution that goes beyond the rights in the U.S. Constitution of which I’m unware.

What’s odd, though, is that the clearly unreasonable searches by Federal agents that we have to endure in order to board an airplane have not, to the best of my knowledge, been challenged, let alone ruled in violation of the Constitution’s prohibition against warrantless searches.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Sports, US Constitution, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    That does seem a little upside down, given stadiums are generally owned by the government and the planes are privately held…

  2. DWPittelli says:

    I don’t think any of the airlines would or do oppose the security systems screening passengers today, which are, as in the Florida case, “a condition of entry into the premises.” The reasonableness of airline security is based on recent history (many hijackings in the late 1960s, plus of course 9/11/01) and the consequences of not having such security — much higher for airplanes than for immobile stadiums, and that there would be essentially no airline passengers otherwise — and the reasonableness has been upheld by the judiciary.

  3. Ah, but Raymond James Stadium is a public facility, owned by the Tampa Sports Authority (a political subdivision of the state of Florida, by way of non-sovereign local governments), so the federal constitution applies due to selective incorporation.

    Now, if the good folks at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had paid their own cash money to build and operate the stadium, no constitutional issue would arise.

  4. In other words, DWPittelli,you think that 9/11 and earlier hijackings are a valid excuse for suspending the Constitution, presuming that all passengers are guilty until they prove themselves innocent, and probable cause is NOT required for searches, right?

    It seems to me that the appropriate way to repeal or suspend our basic Constitutional rights would have been by amending or repealing the Constitution, not by the fiat of some government official.

    Taking basic rights away by fiat is what Hitler, and Stalin and other infamous dictators did. It is shameful that our leaders are doing the same and even more shameful that people like you seem to think it is ok.

    By the way, do you have any historical evidence that would indicate that people living in societies where the government searches everyone are really safer than people living in our formerly free society?

  5. Barry says:

    Diane, that’s pretty much the position of the Republican Part: “9/11 changed everything!”.

    Chris, thanks for pointing that out – I assumed that the stadium was publicly owned, since most team owners wisely avoid spending their own money on such things. It’s much more frugal to get the government to subsidize your business, than to make your own huge capital investments.

  6. Justin says:

    It is clear that no right we have is absolute. Airport and border searches have been challenged a few times but with no success, especially in the wake of 9/11. Those searches have been deemed to be of a compelling governmental interest in protecting the safety of citizens as well as the country. Unfortunately our Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches only goes so far. According to the ACLU there are currently over 100 cases of Muslim Americans being harassed at airports currently pending since 9/11.