An important decision by the Supremes today in United States v. Jones.
Lyle Denniston at ScotusBlog has the details:
The Court flatly rejected the governmentâ€™s argument that it was simply not a search, in the constitutional sense, to physically â€” and secretly â€” attach a small GPS tracker on the underside of the car used by a man, Antoine Jones, who was a principal target of an investigation into a drug-running operation in Washington, D.C., and its suburbs. […]
Given the complexity of the voting pattern, and what the votes actually supported or failed to support, it nonetheless was clear that the Court was unanimous in one respect. It upheld the result â€” but no more than the result â€” of a D.C. Circuit Court ruling that Jonesâ€™ Fourth Amendment rights had been violated.
So that part was very clear, but where it goes from there is a lot murkier.
The choice Monday was between a minimalist approach, one in the middle, and an expansive view of Fourth Amendment privacy. Each had support among the Justices, but counting the votes was a bit tricky.
The most sweeping argument about constitutional protection against government monitoring with sophisticated new devices came in an opinion by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, but that represented â€” at least for now â€” only her views. The narrowest view (which Sotomayor said she also supported, at least this time) came in the opinion for the Court by Justice Antonin Scalia, and that is the five-vote result that clearly put police and federal agents on notice that it would be smart to get a warrant before they attach a monitoring device to a vehicle during a criminal investigation. Approximately in the middle was the view of Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., which attracted perhaps four and a half votes â€” the half-vote being that of Sotomayor, who would have gone further.
So, the Fourth Amendment does actually mean something in the Supreme Court — it’s just that all of them have differing views of just what it means.