The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution makes clear that “the right of the people to be secure” in their homes “against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated” — unless, of course, the search and seizure are accompanied by a warrant based on probable cause.
According to the Washington Examiner, however, President Joe Biden’s administration made clear in a brief to the Supreme Court this week that they would prefer to utterly gut that sacrosanct right.
In an amicus brief filed this week, the Biden Justice Department takes a broad interpretation of a narrow exception to the Fourth Amendment known as “community caretaking” to argue that government officials should be allowed to conduct searches and seize firearms from Americans’ homes without a warrant in the name of “health and safety.”
Seized without a warrant
The stunning argument comes as part of an upcoming case Caniglia v. Strom, which is set to be heard by the Supreme Court on Wednesday. The plaintiff in the case, 68-year-old Edward Caniglia, had his firearms seized without a warrant after police were called to conduct a wellness check following a domestic dispute.
Caniglia and his wife had reportedly engaged in a verbal argument during which he dramatically presented a handgun and urged his wife to “shoot me and get me out of my misery,” though no such action was taken, as the Examiner noted. After spending the night apart, Caniglia’s wife called the house the next morning and received no answer, prompting her to ask police to conduct a “wellness check.”
Following a discussion with the officers outside his home, Caniglia agreed to go to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation, after which he was promptly released without being admitted, the Examiner reported. In the meantime, however, the officers entered his home and took two handguns without a warrant or the homeowner’s permission — handguns he only retrieved months later after suing the city and its police department, he says.
An exception to the rule?
A district court and appeals court had previously ruled that the warrantless seizure of the firearms was justifiable and “reasonable” under the “community caretaking” exception, which the lower courts broadly interpreted as a sort of “catchall” provision covering potential threats to public health and safety.
According to the Washington Examiner, the Biden administration agreed, arguing in its recent amicus brief to the high court that the “reasonableness” of a search and seizure was more important than a warrant in situations involving “non-investigatory public interest, such as health or safety;” therefore, they said, warrants should not be “presumptively required” to conduct a search and seizure.
“Government officials may thus constitutionally enter a home when a serious threat to lives or health justifies immediate intervention, so long as those officials act in a reasonable manner tailored to addressing the particular threat that justified their entry,” the administration declared.
“A threat to everyone’s safety”
If that declaration seems like it completely undermines the fundamental intent of the Fourth Amendment, that is because it does — as was noted in an amicus brief filed jointly by the liberal American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the libertarian Cato Institute, and the American Conservative Union (ACU). The groups argued that the “community caretaking” exception had been grossly expanded by lower courts and was misapplied in this particular circumstance.
Similar arguments were raised in a separate brief filed by the Institute for Justice.
“The Fourth Amendment protects our right to be secure in our property, which means the right to be free from fear that the police will enter your house without warning or authorization,” Institute for Justice attorney Joshua Windham told the Washington Examiner. “A rule that allows police to burst into your home without a warrant whenever they feel they are acting as ‘community caretakers’ is a threat to everyone’s security.”