Tenth Amendment Center: Fourth Amendment: The History Behind “Unreasonable”

Tenth Amendment Center: Fourth Amendment: The History Behind “Unreasonable” by Mike Meharrey:

The Fourth Amendment prohibits violations of our privacy and our person from unreasonable infringement by federal agents.

The founding generation had a pretty clear idea of what constituted “unreasonable,” because they experienced it firsthand under the British rule.

Prior to the Revolution, the British claimed the authority to issue Writs of Assistance allowing officials to enter private homes and businesses to search for evidence of smuggling. These general warrants authorized the holder to search anyplace for smuggled good and did not require any specification as to the place or the suspected goods. Writs of assistance never expired and were considered a valid substitute for specific search warrants. They were also transferable.

Writs of assistance were actually contrary to British legal tradition. In 1604, Attorney General of England Sir Edward Coke held in Semayne’s Case that the King did not have unlimited authority to enter a private dwelling.

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