Oct 092010
 
 October 9, 2010  Court, Surveillance, U.S.

Jordan C. Budd of the University of New Hampshire School of Law has an article in the Indiana Law Journal (Vol. 85, No. 2, 2010). Here’s the abstract:

For much of our nation’s history, the poor have faced pervasive discrimination in the exercise of fundamental rights. Nowhere has the impairment been more severe than in the area of privacy. This Article considers the enduring legacy of this tradition with respect to the Fourth Amendment right to domestic privacy. Far from a matter of receding historical interest, the diminution of the poor’s right to privacy has accelerated in recent years and now represents a powerful theme within the jurisprudence of poverty. Triggering this development has been a series of challenges to aggressive administrative practices adopted by localities in the wake of federal welfare-reform legislation. As a precondition to public assistance, some jurisdictions now require that all applicants submit to a suspicionless home search by law-enforcement investigators seeking evidence of welfare fraud. In turning back challenges to these intrusions, contemporary courts have significantly curtailed the protections of the Fourth Amendment as applied to the poor.

While the courts that sanction these practices disclaim any sort of poverty-based classification underlying their analysis, no other rationale withstands scrutiny. Neither precedent nor the principled extension of existing doctrine justifies recent outcomes or explains why the holdings should not be applied to authorize a vast – and, thus, unacceptable – expansion of suspicionless search practices directed at the homes of the less destitute. The developing jurisprudence accordingly represents an implicit concession that the poor constitute a subconstitutional class for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. Framed most charitably, the decisions understand poverty as a condition of moral culpability and thus accept it as a surrogate for the individualized suspicion that otherwise would be required to justify the intrusions at issue. The premise of the dissolute poor, tracing back centuries, remains alive and well in American law, and we have a bifurcated Fourth Amendment to prove its enduring vitality.

You can download the working paper from SSRN.  (Hat-tip, Legal Theory Blog via @normative).

Although not specifically cited in the working paper, Budd’s article articulates nicely with a point made by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski in his dissent from the panel’s decision not to rehear the Pineda-Moreno ruling en banc:

There’s been much talk about diversity on the bench, but there’s one kind of diversity that doesn’t exist: No truly poor people are appointed as federal judges, or as state judges for that matter. Judges, regardless of race, ethnicity or sex, are selected from the class of people who don’t live in trailers or urban ghettos. The everyday problems of people who live in poverty are not close to our hearts and minds because that’s not how we and our friends live. Yet poor people are entitled to privacy, even if they can’t afford all the gadgets of the wealthy for ensuring it. Whatever else one may say about Pineda-Moreno, it’s perfectly clear that he did not expect– and certainly did not consent–to have strangers prowl his property in the middle of the night and attach electronic tracking devices to the underside of his car. [*10] No one does.

When you glide your BMW into your underground garage or behind an electric gate, you don’t need to worry that somebody might attach a tracking device to it while you sleep. But the Constitution doesn’t prefer the rich over the poor; the man who parks his car next to his trailer is entitled to the same privacy and peace of mind as the man whose urban fortress is guarded by the Bel Air Patrol. The panel’s breezy opinion is troubling on a number of grounds, not least among them its unselfconscious cultural elitism.

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