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U.S. Supreme Court Asked to Correct Dangerous Vermont Ruling That Guts Property & Other Constitutional Rights

Ignoring clear U.S. Supreme Court precedent, Vermont Supreme Court ruling allows for warrantless searches of people’s private property.

Arlington, Virginia—A person’s home is their castle. Except in Vermont. That is because last year, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled in Vermont v. Bovat that police did not need any warrant or other judicial authorization to wander around people’s yards and garages to search for evidence of a crime. The ruling rests upon the idea that yards, driveways, and garages are merely “semiprivate” areas not entitled to Fourth Amendment protection. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently scheduled to consider whether to take this case on September 29, 2020.

If left intact, the Vermont Supreme Court’s decision would greatly weaken all Americans’ right to be secure in their private property. That is why the Institute for Justice (IJ) submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the U.S. Supreme Court pointing out how the decision flouts binding Supreme Court precedent making clear that the government must get a warrant when it wants to come onto your property to find evidence of a crime. IJ is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case, correct the Vermont Supreme Court’s dangerous holding, and tell lower courts to stop trying to chip away at Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights against warrantless searches and seizures.

“The Framers wrote the Fourth Amendment to secure our property and privacy,” explained IJ Senior Attorney Robert Frommer, who heads up IJ’s Fourth Amendment work. “But the Vermont Supreme Court’s decision treats those rights as little more than speed bumps standing in the way of ‘efficient’ law enforcement. The Supreme Court should take up this case, reverse this terrible decision, and instruct lower courts that their job is to stand up for people’s constitutional rights, not to rubberstamp whatever actions the government has taken.”

“The Vermont Supreme Court’s deeply flawed decision is antithetical to judicial engagement,” said Anthony Sanders, IJ senior attorney and head of its Center for Judicial Engagement. “For decades, we have seen courts weaken and even eliminate Americans’ constitutional rights in the name of government efficiency. But that cannot come at the expense of our liberties. All government officials take an oath to uphold the Constitution, and it is incumbent on the courts to make sure they do.”

“The Fourth Amendment protects all of people’s property, and courts should not be in the business of deciding what property is worth protecting,” said Joshua Windham, IJ attorney and lead counsel on Rainwaters v. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, a case challenging Tennessee officials’ warrantless, suspicionless snooping on people’s rural farms. “It is bad enough that the Supreme Court has held that ‘open fields’ get no constitutional protection, but this holding says that even portions of one’s home can be subjected to warrantless searches. We call on the Court to correct this error and instruct lower courts to stop trying to make end runs around people’s constitutional rights.”

“While the Bovat case dealt specifically with a homeowner, it is important to remember that our Fourth Amendment rights extend to renters, as well,” said IJ Litigation Director Dana Berliner. “The Court should ensure that every person’s home—whether they own or rent—is their castle.”

[NOTETo arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call John Kramer, IJ’s vice president for communications, at (703) 682-9320 ext. 205.]

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