The Liberal Assault on the Fourth Amendment


The Liberal Assault on the Fourth Amendment Christopher Slobogin As construed by the Supreme Court, the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness requirement regulates overt, non-regulatory government searches of homes, cars, and personal effects–-and virtually nothing else. This essay is primarily about how we got to this point. It is fashionable to place much of the blame for today’s law on the Warren Court’s adoption of the malleable expectation of privacy concept as the core value protected by the Fourth Amendment. But this diagnosis fails to explain why even the more liberal justices have often gone along with many of the privacy-diminishing holdings of the Court. This essay argues that three other liberal dogmas–the probable cause-forever position, the individualized suspicion mantra, and the obsession with exclusion as a remedy–are the primary reasons we have a Fourth Amendment Lite. When a search requires probable cause to be constitutional, courts are naturally more reluctant to denominate every police attempt to find evidence a search. When suspicion must be individualized, they are more likely to gloss over the harms caused by investigations of groups. And when the sole serious sanction for an illegal search or seizure is suppression at trial, many judges have less sympathy for viable claims, because they cannot stomach dismissal of criminal charges against guilty people. Of course, another explanation for the less-than-robust state of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence is that the Supreme Court is concerned about shackling government law enforcement efforts. But this essay also demonstrates that a more moderate approach than the liberal canon can provide greater Fourth Amendment protection than the current regime without further diminishing law enforcement effectiveness.


Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure

Date of this Version

August 2006