Texas House Prohibits Invasive Security Pat-downs

The Texas House passed a bill to make invasive security pat-downs illegal. But a constitutional law expert says the measure won't hold up against the TSA's federally authorized procedures. Laurie Johnson reports.

The House bill would make it a criminal offense for security officers, such as TSA or other public servants, to touch certain areas of the body when conducting searches.

The language in the bill would make it illegal to touch the genitals, buttocks or breasts of another person, even when travelers are fully clothed.

Professor Charles "Rocky" Rhodes with South Texas College of Law says the bill is largely symbolic.

"And it's really an expression of the legislature's frustration with the procedures that the federal government is employing through the TSA in order to secure airport safety. But the reality of the matter is, and why I refer to it as symbolic, is that a state, under the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution, cannot control the actions of federal officers. They're subject to federal law when they're engaging in their federally mandated duties."

Rhodes says the bill, which passed in the House but has yet to go through the Senate, reflects the strong concerns of the American public. But he says if the bill does pass and become a law, Texans should be cautious of using it as grounds to
refuse a pat-down.

"Their response will be well we're governed by federal law and so therefore what the state has said is really irrelevant. And then you could try to sue. And then they would bring up the fact that they had federal defenses to this. So that's why I said the law doesn't have as much practical effect as it does symbolic effect."

State Representative David Simpson of Longview sponsored the bill and says it's about the dignity of individual travelers.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...