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Assignment Questions

Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties Assignment

The Supreme Court is constantly exploring the limits of our civil liberties. Everybody knows that we are guaranteed the freedom of speech in the Bill of Rights amendments to our Constitution. But you can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. You can’t slander someone without consequences. You can’t tell secrets that jeopardize national security in many instances, especially during wartime. We have the right to bear arms, but I can’t buy a machine gun or a bazooka, much less carry one around. We have the freedom of the press, but you can’t libel someone without consequences. As we learned last week, you can even stage protests at soldiers’ funerals

Where are the limits to our civil liberties? Where does my exercise of my rights begin to intrude on your exercise of yours?

The Fourth Amendment says, in part, that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…,” but the Supreme Court is constantly reviewing and redefining what “unreasonable” means.

Antoine Jones was a nightclub manager who allegedly made a lot of money dealing cocaine. To help track his movements, police officers attached a GPS tracking device to his car, without obtaining a warrant. They argued that since police can covertly follow a car on any public street without obtaining a warrant, this was no different. The GPS device didn’t tell them anything an undercover ‘tail” couldn’t tell them, it was just more accurate, and cheaper than the personnel costs of a live undercover surveillance operation. With the GPS tracking device, it was easy to link Mr. Jones to a wide range of illegal narcotics dealing, but his attorney argued that placing something on his car without a warrant violated Mr. Jones’ Fourth Amendment rights – that the placement of the device constituted an illegal “search” Who’s right?

Find a U.S. Supreme Court case decided in January, 2012, called United States v. Jones.

Write an essay about the case. Make sure to cover:

What are the basic facts of the case?
What was the decision of the majority, and why?
What was the reasoning behind the ruling?
If you were on the Supreme Court, how would you rule, and why?
Read the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. These words were written in the 1790s, but think about them in the context of an age with email, cell phones, high-resolution satellite photography and infra-red sensors that can detect the heat generated by indoor marijuana plants from outside the building. Where do you think a government search crosses the line from reasonable to unreasonable? Give some examples.
Submit this assignment in Microsoft Word. Cite your sources.

Resources you may use:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Website: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/

The Legal Information Institute at Cornell University: http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/index.html

The Washington Post has an excellent page on Supreme Court issues. You may have to register one time to get to the page, but it’s free:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/nation/courts/supremecourt/

The New York Times compiles its Supreme Court Coverage here: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/s/supreme_court/index.html?scp=1-spot&sq=supreme%20court&st=cse.

The Times a good article about the case here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB73358.html

As always, the ScotusBlog has a wealth of information about this case. You can even listen to the audio of the lawyers arguing their case before the court.

Orin Kerr, at the Volokh Conspiracy blog, thinks the decision is more complicated than it appears.

As usual, the ACLU has strong feelings about this issue: http://www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/us-v-jones

The Christian Science Monitor has a good article about he case: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2012/0123/Unanimous-Supreme-Court-Get-a-warrant-before-installing-GPS-tracking-device

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