IJ Will Defend the Fourth Amendment at the Michigan Supreme Court 

August 1, 2023

Virginia is far from the only place IJ’s Project on the Fourth Amendment is fighting for the right to be secure in our property against creepy government surveillance. In February’s issue, we reported on our appeal asking the Michigan Supreme Court to hear Todd and Heather Maxon’s case. To gather evidence of an alleged zoning violation for the way the Maxons stored vehicles, the Maxons’ local government flew a drone all over their rural 5-acre property, capturing intrusive high-resolution photos and videos in the process. It did so three times over several months; it never sought a warrant. 

According to Michigan’s Court of Appeals, all of that is fine. Even if the warrantless drone surveillance violated the Fourth Amendment (the court didn’t reach that question), the Maxons had no remedy. The government can use unconstitutionally obtained evidence in its zoning-enforcement case against them because (the court held) the usual remedy—exclusion of an illegal search’s fruits—applies only to criminal cases. That holding removes a major incentive for officials of all stripes to respect Michiganders’ Fourth Amendment rights.  

Thankfully, Michigan’s Supreme Court has agreed to step in. It will review whether the drone surveillance violated the Fourth Amendment and, if it did, whether the Maxons have a remedy for it. 

Getting a state supreme court to hear a case is no easy feat. In most instances—including here—these courts enjoy total discretion over their dockets. Having persuaded the court to review these cutting-edge issues, we look forward to oral argument and a decision enshrining soaring protections for all Michiganders’ property rights.

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