This month, U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon decided the last of the constitutional issues in the lawsuit against Gretna police officers who refused to let New Orleans residents and visitors cross the Crescent City Connection to flee the city after the levee failures in 2005.
In this layman's opinion, Judge Lemmon decided the issues wrongly, and her ruling could have unforeseen civil liberties consequences down the road.
I assume most everyone in the world knows the basic story. Orleanians and tourists trapped in the flooded, serviceless city attempted to cross the bridge over the Mississippi River and were prevented from doing so by armed police from the Gretna Police Department, who fired warning shots and physically turned the evacuees back to the city. The Times-Picayune has a roundup of links to stories on the events.
This morning, the T-P reported:
In an 11-page ruling signed Dec. 17, Lemmon called the blockade a "reasonable restriction" and cited "compelling safety and welfare" considerations, including heavy vehicular traffic on the bridge and the lack of food, water and shelter on the West Bank for evacuees.
In short, she approved in toto the argument of police officers that preventing pedestrians from escaping natural or manmade disasters in the interest of protecting others along the proposed escape route--people who may or may not have suffered any harm in the disaster--is entirely legal and constitutional.
By implication, she also ruled that you may not have the constitutional right to flee danger, if law enforcement authorities in your path don't want you travelling their way.
Remember, the Gretna officers were not questioning the attempted evacuees, or searching them for weapons. They were simply preventing those American citizens from using a public roadway to get to another public roadway and get the hell out of Hell.
And that, Judge Lemmon declared, is just ducky.
The events following Katrina taught Americans a harsh lesson: They're not coming.
Now we have another to learn: You're not going, either.