Update: Link at Scotus blog http://www.scotusblog.com/2013/06/wednesday-round-up-187/.
As prosecutors, police agencies and civil libertarians consider the ruling’s implications, Justice Scalia’s stark dissent — and the fact that President Obama’s two appointees to the court so far agreed with it — makes it worthy of scrutiny, even if he was on the losing side. His argument is deeply flawed, because he did not get his history quite right.
Justice Scalia summarized his scathing dissent from the bench — a rare act that signals sharp disagreement. His opinion opened with these lines: “The Fourth Amendment forbids searching a person for evidence of a crime when there is no basis for believing the person is guilty of the crime or is in possession of incriminating evidence. That prohibition is categorical and without exception; it lies at the very heart of the Fourth Amendment.”
But the Fourth Amendment’s text is not nearly so simple as he makes it out to be. It merely requires that all searches and seizures be not “unreasonable.” Its words do not distinguish between intrusions seeking “evidence of crime” and other sorts of intrusions — say, to collect revenue, or preserve public safety.
— Why the Court Was Right to Allow Cheek Swabs, Akhil Reed Amar and Neal K. Katyal, New York Times,* today
Oh, dear. Looks like we should all take the Fifth instead of filing income tax returns. Now that we can no longer take the Fourth.
The referenced ruling, whose implications prosecutors, police agencies and civil libertarians are considering, is yesterday’s 5-4 Supreme Court opinion in a case called Maryland v. King. Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog explains:
Treating the solution of unsolved crimes as a legitimate part of routine police station “booking” procedures, a divided Supreme Court on Monday upheld the power of government at all levels to take DNA samples from every person legally arrested for a “serious” new crime. What a suspect may have done in the past, the Court majority ruled, is a part of the profile that police may constitutionally begin to assemble at the time of arrest for a separate offense.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for a five-four majority, insisted that the ruling in the case of Maryland v. King (docket 12-207) involved little more than what happens when police take a suspect’s fingerprints or mug shot. But Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the dissenters, said the Court had validated the use of scientific evidence taken without a warrant not to make an identification but to gather evidence to solve cold cases — something he said the Court has never allowed before.
Whether or not Scalia got his history right, at least he, unlike these these two eminent law professors, recognizes that, as a matter of both fact and the Fourth Amendment, solving an already-committed crime is not the same as requiring the filing of tax returns or thwarting an attempt to carry out a crime. Or, well, at least until yesterday there was a difference as a matter of both fact and the Fourth Amendment. Now I guess there’s only a factual difference, not a legal one.
But these two writers think there’s no factual difference. Or maybe they just think Scalia thinks there’s no factual difference. Or maybe they just didn’t notice the words “for evidence of a crime” in that sentence they quote from Scalia’s dissent: “The Fourth Amendment forbids searching a person for evidence of a crime when there is no basis for believing the person is guilty of the crime or is in possession of incriminating evidence.”
Hard to tell. And rather than clear up that mystery, they just go on to enhance their weird conflation of past and present, and of crime and regulatory compliance:
Justice Scalia failed to identify even one source from the founders articulating the ultraprecise rule that he claims is the central meaning of the Fourth Amendment. And his version of the Fourth Amendment would lead to absurd results.
The government, for example, permits searches at the border to prevent contaminated livestock and plants from entering the country — is such authority permitted only because these searches are not seeking “evidence of crime?” If so, if what happens if the government at some point criminalizes the intentional introduction of diseased animals and vegetables? Why should these searches magically now become unconstitutional?
The title of Denniston’s piece is “Opinion recap: Solving ‘cold cases’ made easier.” Maybe that refers to handling of refrigerated containers of meat and produce by the Border Patrol and the Agriculture Department.
What exactly is the ultraprecise rule that Scalia claims is the central meaning of the Fourth Amendment? That livestock and plants trying to enter the country should be forced to submit to a DNA swab in case they plan to violate the tax code when they file their tax returns with the IRS? That certainly is ultraprecise. Not to mention deeply flawed and historically inaccurate. As is the claim that a statement that the Fourth Amendment forbids searching a person for evidence of a crime when there is no basis for believing the person is guilty of the crime or is in possession of incriminating evidence has anything to do with mandatory filing of tax returns, or airport security, or livestock and plants crossing the border.
My own reaction to the opinion was more along the lines of revulsion than relief that the country’s food supply will continue to be relatively safe from foreign contamination; that I won’t be planting poison tomato seeds imported from Timbuktu; and that Mitt Romney and the Koch brothers won’t have new Fourth Amendment grounds for tax avoidance. And judging from similar sentiment expressed overwhelmingly in comments threads I’ve read about it, I think this opinion will prove to be the Fourth-Amendment/criminal-law Citizens United–a watershed moment of awareness of the chasm between the Supreme Court justices who think it’s forever the days of the Reagan presidency and the substantial majority of the public who think it’s 2013.
Yes, the Fourth Amendment’s text merely requires that all searches and seizures be not “unreasonable.” Which itself is a distinction between intrusions seeking “evidence of crime” and other sorts of intrusions — say, to collect revenue, or preserve public safety. Or so I and others, including Scalia, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan, had thought.
Then again, Amar and Katyal must know what they’re talking about. They’re eminent law profs, after all, who by virtue of their eminence get anything they submit published anywhere they submit it.
Anything they submit. Even this.
*“Akhil Reed Amar is a professor of law and political science at Yale. Neal K. Katyal is a former acting solicitor general of the United States, a professor of national security law at Georgetown and a partner at the law firm Hogan Lovells.”