TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – Security “pat-downs” of fans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers games are unconstitutional and unreasonable, a federal judge ruled Friday, throwing into question the practice at NFL games nationwide.

U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore issued an order siding with a season-ticket holder who had sued to stop the fan searches that began last season after the NFL implemented enhanced security measures.

High school civics teacher Gordon Johnson sued the Tampa Sports Authority, which operates the stadium, to stop officials from conducting the “suspicionless” searches. A state judge agreed with Johnston that the searches are likely unconstitutional.

The case was later moved to federal court, where the sports authority sought to have that order thrown out. Whittemore refused Friday, writing that the pat-downs “constitute unreasonable searches under the Florida Constitution and the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Further, Whittemore said the Tampa Sports Authority failed to establish that the risks outweigh the need to protect the public.

from unreasonable searches.

Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, which sued on Johnston’s behalf, said Whittemore’s decision could turn out to be significant.

“It’s obviously not going to govern what’s happening around the country, but it’s certainly going to be an influential precedent,” Simon said. “Other courts may look at it.”

Simon said he thinks the decision shows that courts are “pushing back” at governmental attempts to violate citizens’ civil rights on the basis of a perceived threat of terrorism or crime.

Rick Zabak, an attorney for Tampa Sports Authority, said the decision will be appealed.

“We’re disappointed, and we respectfully disagree with the judge’s conclusions,” Zabak said.

Calls to an NFL spokesman were not immediately returned Friday. In a previous statement, the NFL said “these limited screenings are reasonable and important to the protection of our fans.”

Another NFL pat-down case made it into federal court last week when the Chicago Park District sued in federal court to challenge the planned searches by police at Chicago Bears games.

AP-ES-07-28-06 1708EDT

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