Vote Notes: H.J. Res 76, to Establish a Washington Metrorail Safety Commission
Last month, the House passed H.J. Res 76 by a vote of 399 to 5. This resolution would allow Virginia, Maryland, and DC to establish a tri-state Washington Metrorail Safety Commission. Under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, Congress has the authority to permit states and the District of Columbia to enter into interstate compacts. But what Congress doesn’t have the authority to do is authorize compacts that would allow states to conduct warrantless searches of private property. One section of the agreement did just that, and accordingly, I was one of five Republicans to vote no.
The section in question would have authorized the Metrorail Safety Commission to enter upon any property that is adjacent to the metrorail system for investigations, repairs, and more. This would include any privately-owned lands and premises that happen to be next to the railway. The only restriction on this authority would be that the CEO of the metro transit authority must first give “reasonable notice.” The Founding Fathers didn’t protect us under the Fourth Amendment with a “reasonable notice” standard...they said that absent an ongoing emergency or crime, there needs to be a warrant issued by a judge in order to intrude on folks’ private property.
The DC metro system is in dire need of improvements, particularly those related to rider safety. In fact, in the last three years alone, there have been three total train derailments. But while it seems reasonable that Congress should work to address these issues as soon as possible, we should be wary of any bill that rolls over private property rights in exchange for a remedy.