by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The Supreme Court is preparing to close out 2017 with a slew of blockbuster cases starting with a major cellphone privacy case Wednesday.
The justices will hear arguments Wednesday in Carpenter v. United States, a case about the constitutionality of law enforcement searching and seizing — without a warrant — a cellphone user’s records to reveal that person’s locations and movements.
The government acquired location data in 2011 on Timothy Carpenter, a suspect in a criminal investigation in Detroit, without first obtaining a warrant. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals heard Carpenter’s appeal and decided the government did not need a warrant under the Fourth Amendment.
Carpenter’s lawyer and the American Civil Liberties Union petitioned the Supreme Court on his behalf, and the justices granted the case in June.
How the justices rule could reveal their thinking about the limits of governmental surveillance in the Internet age. Orrin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and former law clerk to Justice Anthony Kennedy, has noted that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case without any split on the issue from federal appeals courts. None of the justices sat on the high court when it last tackled the precedents prevailing in the Carpenter case.
“Carpenter versus the United States is probably the biggest Fourth Amendment case that the court has had in at least five or six years, maybe longer,” Kerr said in September at an event hosted by the Federalist Society.