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COLUMN: Why Do You Wait for the Courts to Assert Your Constitutional Rights?

OPINION: Jessica Szilagyi talks about a recent court ruling that limits what questions police officers can ask during a traffic stop, but she says it’s only necessary because people have become too lazy and complacent to assert their own rights.

The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of only the author and not those of AllOnGeorgia.

Pro Roof GA

Have you ever noticed how hypocritical people are about the role they want or need government to play in their lives? The same people who see government as the problem often times expect government to play the attorney for two opposing parties at the same time. Let me give you an example.

A recent ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court banned law enforcement officials from asking certain questions during traffic stops. 

According to Oregon Public Broadcasting,No longer can officers use a broken taillight or a failure to signal as a justification for scouting a driver’s car for illegal guns or drugs. The ruling instructs officers to stick to questions “reasonably related” to the reason the driver was pulled over, effectively ending law enforcement’s ability to turn a routine traffic stop into a fishing expedition for a more serious offense.”

The case made its way through the courts after a driver was pulled over for failing to use a turn signal, was asked to consent to search the car, ultimately consented to the vehicle search, and then authorities found a package of meth on the floor of the car.

I don’t even know where to start.

First, as a libertarian and a person with critical thinking abilities, I am baffled by the idea of someone who is hauling drugs consenting to a vehicle search. How is your answer ‘yes’? Even if you did not have the right to say ‘no,’ how do you not try to say ‘no’ anyway?

Second, this is going to have an impact on the courts as the ruling specifically raises concerns about the role of the judiciary in policing. I don’t see how every traffic stop in which a question is posed won’t end up challenged in the courts on the basis of an officer reaching outside the limited parameters. After the courts are good and clogged, the end result will be a pre-set list of questions that authorities are permitted to ask on the roadside – in the same way that we have Miranda warnings and Implied Consent readings that must be articulated verbatim. The traffic stop questions will be set based on court rulings and the opinions of elected and appointed judges from the trial courts, the Court of Appeals, and the state Supreme Court, which is hardly the proper role of the judiciary. For those playing at home, at best, it would be something for the legislature. 

Most importantly, this ruling highlights a greater tangential problem of a seemingly less informed populace. It is two-pronged here not only is this another attempt to make the case that policing practices are inherently racist, it also implies that the general public is too stupid to comprehend and assert their own rights. Those who challenged such practices cite evidence that reports that “Native Americans and black drivers “were searched at significantly higher rates when compared to overall stop rates.” The earlier OPB article uses the phrasing that people of color “fall victim to” searches at a higher rate, but neither the evidence nor the articles distinguish the rate at which either of those demographics consented to searches. 

In tying race to this ruling in particular, those who support the ruling are essentially saying that people need the government to be in total control of rights because people are too incompetent to do it themselves and that non-whites are even less capable of digesting and regurgitating said rights.

But this issue is not isolated. It’s a trend – one that’s been infiltrating courts across the nation for years. Look no further than ‘Implied Consent’ readings, which you have already agreed to when you obtained a driver’s license, and Miranda warnings. Miranda specifically is mind boggling. “You have the right to remain silent…You have the right to an attorney…” These are not complex concepts and they are no new concepts. 230 years of precedent and distinguishable rights that make us inherently different from any other nation in the world, yet the government you fear will infringe on your rights…is charged with detailing your rights…because said government established that you do not have the ability to get through a police encounter without the government reading you your rights that are endowed by Our Creator and protected by our nation’s governing documents? Seriously?

Here’s my question: Where is the personal responsibility component of all of this?

What about shielding motorists from questions during a traffic stop relies on personal responsibility? You have every right to invoke your 5th Amendment right and refuse to answer questions, so what is keeping you from doing it? No one is walking around informing your freedom to assemble, your right to bear arms, or your protections against quartering soldiers – in case you forgot. 

If ignorance of the law is not a legal defense, how is ignorance of your rights the responsibility of the state? Not knowing your rights does not make you a victim. It makes you complacent, if not lazy. Instead of asserting your rights and understanding your own obligation to protect and uphold those rights, we would prefer the government keep us from getting in situations where we would need to be skilled at exercising those rights.

Have you ever asked yourself why might the government want a population unskilled at exercising and asserting rights? 

If you take comfort in a government-mandated obligation by government to properly inform you of and protect your rights that can only be violated by government, I would implore you to consider the definition of ‘government’ – “the action or manner of controlling or regulating a nation, organization, or people.”

It is not -nor will it ever be- enough to look at court rulings so superficially as to only consider ‘what.’ We must also ask ‘why.’ And our Founders would scoff at the idea of such an uninformed and unenthusiastic citizenry so reliant on others to do what we should do for ourselves.

Jessica Szilagyi is a former Statewide Contributor for



  1. Nelda Smith

    November 26, 2019 at 7:43 am


  2. Richard Down

    December 16, 2019 at 4:53 pm

    Interesting perspective, but the facts and stats support the notion that cops are more likely to 1)stop black drivers (DWB – Driving While Black is a real thing) 2) search a black person’s vehicle 3) plant contraband in a black person’s vehicle or on their person 4)arrest black people 5) pull a firearm on black people and 6) kill black people.

    This is nothing new. Black people have known about this since he end of slavery.

    Rather than victim blame, let’s put the blame on the too-many racist and/or trigger-happy cops out there. I know, I know – not all cops – but there are enough of them out there to figure into a sensible person’s thinking. (I am white, but I took the Obama stickers off my car when I took a job in rural Georgia, I don’t want to invite stupidity into my life.)

    When your life might be at stake, you are more apt to do what an authority figure tells you to do. As an attractive white woman, ask yourself what would you do if a cop pulled you over on a lonely road in the middle of nowhere and your phone is dead or you don’t have signal?

    And there are probably way more racist than rapist cops out there.

    You also assume that the cop knows the constitution. We’ve all seen the videos of cops arguing with black people about their rights – and it seems that very few cops are constitutional scholars. A lot of them turn into Eric Cartman – respect my AUTHORIT-Y when a black person asserts their rights.

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