This Assignment asks you to look at the differences between the Constitution and constitutional law, by looking at two Supreme Court Cases.
Look at the text of the Fourth Amendment. Does the amendment define exactly what an “unreasonable search” is, or does the U.S. Supreme Court have to interpret the phrase when it decides cases?
What happened in Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928)? What are the facts of the case? Who is Mr. Olmstead and what happened to him? Why did the Supreme Court conclude that the government could listen to Mr. Olmstead’s phone calls without a warrant? What does physical presence have to do with the Supreme Court’s analysis? How did the Supreme Court define the term “search?” Does this definition mean that listening to a phone conversation was not a “search” under the Fourth Amendment?
The justices who wrote the Olmstead opinion were all born in the 1800s and were adults when the telephone was invented. How much experience do you think they had with a telephone, and how important was the telephone in the life of an average person in 1928? Do you believe that this had anything to do with the ruling?
Now, read the case of Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967). Who is Mr. Katz, and what happened to him? This time, the Supreme Court had a completely different view of the Fourth Amendment’s protections of phone calls. When the Supreme Court overrules itself, legal scholars take notice. Explain in detail the Supreme Court’s legal conclusions in this case. Why did it overrule Olmstead, and what does the law now say about the government’s ability to use wiretapped evidence without a warrant in a criminal case? You should point out at least three differences between the rulings in the two cases.