Vol. 93, Article (December 2020)
93 S. Cal. L. Rev. Postscript 987 (2020)
Keywords: Collection Act of 1789, Fourth Amendment, Admiralty Jurisdiction, Border Exception
This Article will demonstrate that the originalist argument in Carroll is based on an incorrect historical interpretation of the history of the Fourth Amendment. As discussed in greater detail below, the Carroll argument hinges on the allowance of warrantless ship searches by the First Congress (the same Congress that proposed the Fourth Amendment), coupled with a further analytic step of analogizing ship searches to land vehicle searches. This Article will show that warrantless ship searches were considered permissible under the Fourth Amendment because they were confined to federal admiralty jurisdiction at the time of the Founding. In contrast, land searches were treated differently by the First Congress. Thus, as this Article will demonstrate, the originalist argument in Carroll fails.
Finally, this Article will refute the pragmatic policy arguments offered by the Supreme Court to justify the vehicle exception. While policy arguments are not necessarily meritless, they are the weakest justifications in this instance, because the vehicle exception goes against both the text and the original intent of the Fourth Amendment. There are two main arguments in favor of a warrantless search exception: (1) the mobility of vehicles and (2) the substantial government regulation of vehicles. This Article will demonstrate that both rest on faulty premises that do not justify the abrogation of the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement.
Even upon its creation in 1925, the vehicle exception to the Fourth Amendment has always rested on a shaky ground. The time has come for the Supreme Court to overturn this exception and instead apply the text and history of the Fourth Amendment to require warrants for the search of vehicles.
*. Ph.D. Candidate in History, University of Chicago; A.B. 2013, Harvard University; M.A. 2014, University of Chicago; J.D. 2018, Harvard Law School. He would like to thank Tracey Maclin for his very helpful comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this Article.