Keeping Up With the Court

By , November 10, 2011 9:16 am

by Stina McClintock

This has been a busy time in the world of news and entertainment.  Between the heartbreaking end to Kim Kardashian’s 72-day not-at-all-for-money marriage to the GOP candidates going for blood in their 500th debate of the year, the goings-on at the Supreme Court have not received much air time. So what are the Justices up to these days?  Well, they have been busy issuing its first opinion of the term and hearing oral arguments in cases ranging from prosecutorial duty to disclose evidence to whether or not filing a fraudulent tax return can be considered an aggravated felony.  And  recently the court heard oral argument on a case that is being likened to a Ninety Eighty-Four Orwellian theme.

In United States v. Jones, the Court heard arguments on whether the Constitution permits police to put a GPS tracking device on a car without either a warrant or the owner’s permission.  Antoine Jones was arrested on cocaine possession charges using evidence obtained from the D.C. officers’ GPS tracking, and convicted in a Washington District Court in January 2008 of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, receiving a life sentence.  Jones’ conviction was later overturned on appeal to the US Court of Appeals DC.  This decision is now being reviewed by the Supreme Court, with the decision offering an important clarification of the Fourth Amendment right to be protected against unlawful search and seizure in the information age.

At NPR, Nina Totenberg observes that the case “could have enormous implications for privacy rights in the information age.”  So, it is not surprising that the ACLU and the Electronic Privacy Information Center have filed briefs urging the Supreme Court to uphold the Appeals Court ruling.  And the question of privacy was on Justice Breyer’s mind, as he said to the Justice Department lawyers:

If you win this case, then there is nothing to prevent the police or the government from monitoring 24 hours a day the public movement of every citizen of the United States…So if you win, you suddenly produce what sounds like 1984

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