I visited the Supreme Court this morning for the oral arguments in Messerschmidt v. Millender, a Fourth Amendment qualified immunity case I wrote about here. The transcript of the argument should be available here later this afternoon, but I figured I would post a few thoughts about the oral argument in the meantime:
(1) On the whole, the questioning left the impression that the Justice see the case as significantly closer than I was expecting. I saw the case as a relatively straightforward reverse, but the lawyers for the petitioner received a lot of push-back. The most surprising push-back was from Justice Scalia, who I read as indicating that he thought the errors in the warrant were obvious. Scalia is usually a strong pro-law enforcement vote in Fourth Amendment remedies cases, so if he’s on the other side, it’s hard to know where the votes will line up.
(2) Justice Kagan asked a particularly important question: What if the warrant is fine in many respects, but then has one defect in the list of items to be seized? That is, what if the warrant was sufficiently particular as to the guns, but no reasonable officer could think it was sufficiently particular as to the evidence of gang-related activity? This is a hugely important question in practice because it’s unfortunately very common for warrants to have a “catch-all” entry in the list of items to be seized. An officer will write a particular warrant, and then, just to be inclusive, throw in an extra item to be seized that is overly broad. Suppression challenges based on these “catch-all” entries are common, but don’t go anywhere: Courts routinely hold that even though a catch-all provision was overly broad, the evidence seized fell within one of the other (particular) items to [...]