Red Wing, Minn.—One of the most important purposes of the Minnesota Constitution is to protect law-abiding citizens from unwanted government intrusions into their home—but the city of Red Wing, Minn., thinks it should essentially get spare keys to everyone’s rental homes. The Institute for Justice intends to prove the city of Red Wing wrong.
Late yesterday, March 31, 2009, the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter filed a motion for summary judgment in Goodhue County District Court seeking a ruling under the Minnesota Constitution preventing the city of Red Wing from obtaining so-called “administrative” warrants to search peoples’ homes. If the government wants to get into your home, it needs a traditional warrant or your voluntary consent.
“The Minnesota Constitution forbids unreasonable government invasions of the homes of law-abiding people,” said Dana Berliner, an IJ senior attorney, which is challenging Red Wing in court. “Minnesota courts have a special respect for the rights of people to be secure in their homes, and we are confident that they will protect the rights of landlords and tenants to decide who they are willing to let into their residences.”
Berliner said, “An ‘administrative’ warrant is a warrant in name only. Unlike real warrants, the government doesn’t show that there’s anything wrong with the property it wants to search; it just claims there is a need to search the area or that there are problems with other homes. It is like searching the home of everyone in the city because the government is sure that somebody committed a crime. That is exactly what the Minnesota Constitution forbids.”
The IJ Minnesota Chapter is representing nine landlords and two tenants in their challenge to Red Wing’s unconstitutional rental housing inspection law that allows searches of homes without any suspicion that there is a real code violation inside and without getting the consent of the home owner or renter.
Berliner said, “Minnesota courts have repeatedly upheld the importance of the right to privacy under Minnesota’s Constitution. A government inspector going into the bedrooms, bathrooms and closets of people who have done absolutely nothing wrong is about as extreme a violation of privacy as you can get.”
“Article I, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution was written specifically to outlaw the sort of general warrants that would allow Red Wing to conduct these searches, as well as ensure that only warrants based on specific probable cause could be used to enter peoples’ homes,” said IJ-Minnesota Staff Attorney Jason Adkins. “It is time for the courts to demand respect for both constitutional history and common sense by recognizing traditional limits to government authority when it comes to searches.”
IJ has already defeated two of Red Wing’s applications for administrative warrants. The city is preparing to try again for the third time after two rounds of edits to its rental inspection ordinance.
Plaintiff Robert McCaughtry has been fighting Red Wing’s rental inspection program for three years and has become exasperated with the process.
“Even when we’ve successfully fought the city, we’re always back to square one because the city doesn’t fix the heart of the problem with the law, which is that it is obtaining bogus warrants and using them to barge into private homes where it has no place,” said McCaughtry. “The city gets unlimited do-overs but citizens are left helpless to defend their rights.”
Adkins said, “Law-abiding citizens should not have to defend themselves from an endless series of unconstitutional search warrants while cities play trial-and-error with the Constitution. If after losing repeatedly in court, the city still doesn’t know how to fix its laws, we’ll be happy to offer some specific suggestions, starting with removing the mandatory inspection requirement on rental homes altogether. Voluntary inspections—rather than heavy-handed, unconstitutional and mandatory ones—would be the best way to fix this legal conflict once and for all.”
IJ’s latest motion seeks to utilize the Minnesota Constitution’s robust protections of the sanctity of the home to eliminate the use of administrative warrants to conduct housing sweeps. If the city wants to inspect a property, it will have to get a real warrant based on actual evidence of a code violation in a particular home. Only then will the citizens of Red Wing and all of Minnesota be free from truly unreasonable searches as the state and federal constitutions intended.