(AUSTIN, Texas) -- In a showdown with national implications for travelers, the Department of Justice has threatened to cancel flights to and from Texas if the state's legislators enact a law forbidding security pat-downs that include private parts.
John Murphy, U.S. Attorney for the western district of Texas, wrote a letter to leaders of the Texas state legislature indicating that if the bill is enacted, the TSA would "likely be required to cancel any flight…for which it could not ensure the safety of passengers and crew."
House bill 1937, passed unanimously by the Texas House this month, forbids Transportation Security Administration officials from intentionally touching the private parts of another person. The bill had passed through a Senate committee unanimously before Murphy sent the letter this week.
"As you no doubt are aware, the bill makes it a crime for a federal Transportation Security Official (TSO) to perform the security screening that he or she is authorized and required by federal law to perform," Murphy wrote.
In response to Murphy's threat, Texas state representative David Simpson wrote a response correcting alleged "inaccuracies" in the attorney general's letter and saying that the federal government is "attempting to deprive the citizens of Texas of their constitutional rights."
"The attorney general's letter claims we are stopping all searches. The bill just says you can't touch privates without probable cause," Simpson told ABC News. "This bill was supported unanimously by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives."
Simpson said the bill states that a TSA official commits an offense if "without probable cause performs a search for the purpose of granting access to a publicly accessible building or form of transportation and intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly touches the anus, sexual organ, buttocks or breasts of the other person."
Simpson said if only 3 percent of air travelers in the U.S. undergo pat-downs, as cited previously by the TSA, then flights to Texas could be shut down "because TSA would not be able to ensure the safety of passengers and crew if agents could not touch the genitals of 3 percent."
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