Federal Courts and Nominations

Chief Justice John Roberts and the Scope of the Fourth Amendment

Washington, DC –  Today, on the heels of the  U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this week  in Rodriguez v. United States – holding that absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Fourth Amendment – Constitutional Accountability Center is releasing the latest Snapshot in its “Roberts at 10” project examining John Roberts’s first nine Terms as Chief Justice of the United States: Roberts and the Fourth Amendment: A Mostly Pro-Government Vote with Some Important Exceptions. 


Today’s Snapshot studies the Chief Justice’s approach to Fourth Amendment issues, not only because of the sheer number of such cases the Court considers, and not only because of the potential impact those cases can have on the lives of individual Americans, but also because this is an area of the law in which one can never assume that votes will break down along the Roberts Court’s 5-4 ideological axis. To be sure, such 5-4 decisions exist in this context, but there have also been surprises: cross-ideological votes in some divided cases, not to mention two significant decisions that were decided unanimously.


Read the new “Roberts at 10” Snapshot and an excerpt here: http://theusconstitution.org/sites/default/files/briefs/Roberts-at-10-Fourth-Amendment_0.pdf


John Roberts was no Fourth Amendment champion when he was on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and he hasn’t been one in his first decade on the Supreme Court either.  To the contrary, in cases raising Fourth Amendment questions, he has almost always ruled for the government and for a crabbed understanding of the scope of the protections the Fourth Amendment provides.  But there have been exceptions, and two of them are significant.  Notably, Roberts voted in favor of robust Fourth Amendment protection in two recent cases involving the application of the Amendment to new technologies; in one, he wrote a powerful opinion celebrating the importance the nation’s Framers attached to the privacy protections adopted in the Amendment.  While it seems likely that Roberts will generally continue to privilege the police over the privacy right enshrined in the Fourth Amendment, his decisions in these two recent cases show that his vote is in play in one important context that will likely give rise to many Fourth Amendment cases in the years ahead.




Additional Resources:


“Roberts at 10” experts available for interviews: CAC Appellate Counsel Brianne Gorod, Civil Rights Director David Gans and Vice President Judith E. Schaeffer.


Roberts at 10: A Look at the First Decade of John Roberts’s Tenure as Chief Justice (opening Snapshot): http://theusconstitution.org/sites/default/files/briefs/Roberts-at-10-A-Look-at-the-First-Decade.pdf 


Roberts at 10: Federal Power: The Evolving Story of John Roberts and Congress’s Commerce Clause and Spending Clause Powers: http://theusconstitution.org/sites/default/files/briefs/Roberts-at-10-Evolving-Story-of-John-Roberts-federal-power.pdf 


Roberts at 10: Campaign Finance and Voting Rights: Easier to Donate, Harder to Vote: http://theusconstitution.org/sites/default/files/briefs/Roberts-at-10-Easier-to-Donate-Harder-to-Vote.pdf 


Roberts at 10: Roberts’s Quiet, But Critical, Votes To Limit Women’s Rights: http://theusconstitution.org/sites/default/files/briefs/Roberts-at-10-Roberts-Quiet-But-Critical-Votes-To-Limit-Womens-Rights.pdf 


Roberts at 10: Roberts’s Environmental Law Record: It’s Not Good, But Don’t Count Him Out: http://theusconstitution.org/sites/default/files/briefs/Roberts-at-10-Environment.pdf 


Roberts at 10: John Roberts and LGBT Rights  – The Jury is Still Out: http://theusconstitution.org/sites/default/files/briefs/Roberts_at_10-LGBT.pdf 




Constitutional Accountability Center (www.theusconstitution.org) is a think tank, public interest law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text and history.



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