Steve Bierfeldt, director of development for Ron Paul’s Campaign
for Liberty, thought he was having a good day. At a regional
Campaign for Liberty event in Missouri, Bierfeldt had sold
thousands of dollars worth of conference tickets, bumper stickers,
T-shirts, and books, and was now in the security line at
Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, waiting to catch a flight
back to Washington, D.C. But the federal government had other
ideas.

After discovering a metal box with more than $4,700 in cash and
checks inside Bierfeldt’s luggage, officials from the
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) detained him for
further screening. The TSA, you will recall, is the agency within
the Department of Homeland Security that (according to its website)
is tasked with protecting “the Nation’s transportation systems to
ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.” Bierfeldt had
an altogether different experience. 

TSA agents interrogated him for more than a half hour with a
series of intrusive questions: “Where do you work?” “What are you
planning to do with the money?” “Where did you acquire the money?”
Although he had nothing to hide, Bierfeldt valued his privacy
enough to refuse to answer the questions. The officers told him he
wouldn’t be able to move on if he continued to clam up. But
Bierfeldt stuck to his guns, and was eventually, if grudgingly,
allowed to catch his flight.

Consider the potential consequences of the TSA’s open-ended
license to hassle travelers. If Bierfeldt had stayed huddled inside
his home rather than risk the whims of armed interrogators, he
would no longer be able to pursue his lawful employment. He would
be less free to express his political views by advocating Campaign
for Liberty’s values. The government in this way can eviscerate
constitutional rights simply by burdening the travel of those whose
ideas it disfavors.

The right to travel enables the free exercise of the other
rights we most cherish. We should not have to check our
constitutional freedoms at the curb simply because we decide to
leave the house. Sadly, freedom of movement has been one of the
most disparaged rights throughout human history, and our country is
no exception. If we are ever to be truly free, then we must possess
an absolute, uninhibited right to travel throughout America and the
world free from interference by government.

The Freedom to Travel in American Law

Of all the inalienable rights we possess as
individuals, none is as basic, fundamental, and natural as the
freedom of movement and travel. As human beings, we enter this
world bestowed with two legs and feet and the muscles needed to
power them. Furthermore, we are given a brain and the undying
yearning to discover, to know the unknown, to see what lies hidden
beyond the horizon. Thus, a fundamental right of movement is
inherent in our very humanity. It is altogether fitting that one of
the universal symbols of freedom is a broken chain.

The freedom to travel is also central to the American national
psyche. Our European ancestors settled here because they had the
right to move freely from their homelands. The very history and
trajectory of the United States are testament to man’s inherent
right to movement and travel, from Lewis and Clark to Armstrong and
Aldrin.

State restrictions on the right to travel connote that the
government is the individual’s master, and not his servant. The
right to own property includes being able to decide which
individuals may enter upon our property, and under what
circumstances. If the government usurps this ultimate right from
property owners, or grants itself a monopoly over certain modes of
travel, then clearly the rights of individuals extend only so far
as the government, and no one else, wills them. Thus, circumvention
of the right to travel is particularly antithetical to the Natural
Law, and to the principle that the temporal is always subject to
the immutable. Freedom subject to the government’s whim is no
freedom at all. Liberty, at its core, is encompassed in the right
of exit. As constitutional scholar Randy Barnett has noted, if one
wishes to discover which nations offer the best protection of
natural rights, one only need observe the directional flow of its
refugees.

American courts have, at least in theory, declared the freedom
to travel to be near absolute. The right to travel is so basic to
our nature that the Founding Fathers did not believe it needed to
be documented in the text of the Constitution. In Saenz v.
Roe
(1999), the Supreme Court stated, “We need not identify
the source of [the right to travel] in the text of the
Constitution. The right of free ingress and egress [to enter and
leave] to and from neighboring states which was expressly mentioned
in the text of the Articles of Confederation, may simply have been
conceived from the beginning to be a necessary concomitant of the
stronger Union the Constitution created.” In other words, the right
to travel is simply implicit in the concept of freedom, and indeed
in the Constitution itself.

To further illustrate the point, consider the original meaning
of Congress’s authorization to regulate interstate commerce: to
keep commerce between the states regular. Indeed, the principal
reason for the Constitutional Convention itself was to establish a
central government that would prevent ruinous state-imposed tariffs
that favored in-state businesses and impeded the natural flow of
goods and services across state borders. Thus, the central purpose
of the Commerce Clause was to secure, not inhibit, the free travel
of goods. If this was the Founders’ attitude toward commerce (the
trade of goods owned by individuals), then they most certainly
would have held a similar view on the freedom of individuals
themselves to travel.

In more recent times, the United Nations, of which the United
States is a member, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, which provides for a similar right on an international
scale: “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence
within the borders of each State. Everyone has the right to leave
any country, including his own, and return to his country.” This is
significant for a number of reasons. First, it is further evidence
of the absolute and universal nature of the right to travel.
Second, it imposes upon the United States an international legal
obligation to not inhibit travel within its borders, nor prevent
individuals from leaving or coming back. 

The U.S. Supreme Court formally recognized the freedom to travel
as a fundamental right in Shapiro v. Thompson (1969),
which examined statutes that denied welfare assistance to people
who had not resided within their jurisdictions for at least one
year. The Court held these laws to be unconstitutional because they
inhibited migration and restricted movement. The majority wrote,
“The constitutional right to travel from one State to
another…occupies a position fundamental to the concept of our
Federal Union. It is a right that has been firmly established and
repeatedly recognized.” 

Doctrinally, the right to travel can be separated into three
constituent parts. First, taken from Article IV, Section 2, Clause
1 of the Constitution, a person from State A who is temporarily
visiting State B has the same “Privileges and Immunities” as a
state resident. Second, an individual may move freely between
states. Third, when an individual establishes residency in a new
state, he or she enjoys the same rights and benefits as other
individuals who have been there for years. Together, these
components ensure that the individual can fully enjoy an
uninhibited, natural right to travel. How faithful the government
has been in following these principles is another story.

Physical Restrictions

As Steve Bierfeldt and anyone else who has flown a plane over
the last decade can testify, the federal government impedes travel
by monopolizing the protection of airports. Like monopolies
everywhere, the TSA is overly expensive, customer-unfriendly, and
famously inefficient, hassling grandmothers and toddlers while
missing the open transport of weapons and other dangerous
contraband. Law-abiding U.S. citizens can be put on watchlists and
barred entry on planes without even having the right to know how
and when they got on the list in the first place. And
unfortunately, government intrusion on the freedom of movement long
predates 9/11.

On September 12, 1986, New Jersey law enforcement officials
established a roadblock during the height of rush hour on the
George Washington Bridge connecting New York City to Fort Lee, New
Jersey. The stated purpose was to detect persons transporting drugs
or driving under the influence. As would have been predictable to
even the most casual observer, the roadblock caused massive delays
and traffic stalls. Capt. Robert Herb of the Bergen County Police
Department, the highest-ranking uniformed officer supervising the
roadblock, later testified that more than one million motor
vehicles came to a complete stop; in other words, more than one in
300 of all Americans were blocked by law enforcement—in
some cases for in excess of four hours.

There were plenty of adverse consequences. Infuriatingly, a
woman was forced to give birth that night on the shoulder of the
West Side Highway in New York City. People were prevented from
returning home, from getting to work, and from seeking proper
medical treatment, all so that police could identify individuals
carrying drugs. If we as Americans possess an unconditional right
to travel freely, how are such government actions tolerable?
Shouldn’t mothers in labor have a constitutionally protected
freedom to drive to a hospital? 

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