Editor's Note: This Essay is part of a Colloquy Exchange between Professors Alexander Reinert and Erik Luna on the Fourth Amendment concerns of the new, invasive airport security measures. Read Professor Reinert's contribution, Revisiting "Special Needs" Theory Via Airport Searches, here
On the evening of May 1, 2011, the American people learned that the world's most wanted criminal—Osama bin Laden—had been killed in Pakistan during a covert operation by an elite U.S. military team. The news triggered spontaneous gatherings and revelry across the country. For the millennium's new generation, bin Laden had been the embodiment of evil—a real-life boogeyman—and, for some, "the first person I was ever taught to hate." Many young Americans will not be able to recall life without a deep-seated fear of the terrorist leader and the organization he founded, all against a national backdrop of the so-called "war on terror." Bin Laden's death thus signaled the "end of an era" and progress "toward a safer, less violent world."
After emotions settled, however, thoughts turned to the ultimate impact of the operation that closed "the Bin Laden decade." The al Qaeda leader "really did a number on all of us," wrote New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. "Who will tell the people how deep the hole is that Bin Laden helped each of us dig over the last decade—and who will tell the people how hard and how necessary it will be to climb out?" The question appears ripe in light of recent statements by top officials. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claimed that the United States was "within reach of strategically defeating Al Qaeda." Shortly thereafter, President Barack Obama announced that "Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11" and that "more than half of al Qaeda's leadership" had been taken out.
The time has come to begin a post-mortem examination, so to speak, of the damage wrought upon the United States and its people during the decade of bin Laden. Some, like Friedman, have looked to the international consequences, including the perpetually troubled relationship among Arab states, Israel, and the United States, which was undoubtedly worsened by 9/11 and its aftershock. This colloquy contemplates an area of domestic concern that represents perhaps the most palpable effect of terrorism on the American citizenry: travel by plane. In his contribution, Professor Alexander Reinert provides thoughtful analysis of Fourth Amendment doctrine as applied to airport security. Here, I hope to complement his piece by offering some context on terrorism, with the goal of prompting discussion as to whether bin Laden's legacy will include yet another instance of constitutional exceptionalism.