Virginia v. Moore and the Changing Role of the Fourth Amendment:
In this post, I want to argue that yesterday's decision in Virginia v. Moore hides a fascinating clash: a clash between the mindset and assumptions of the pre-incorporation Fourth Amendment and the mindset and assumptions of the post-incorporation Fourth Amendment we have today. My claim is that the basic assumptions of the post-incorporation Fourth Amendment are now so deeply engrained in the Justices' consciousness that they didn't appreciate how their decision was inconsistent with pre-incorporation Fourth Amendment history. This doesn't mean that Moore was wrongly decided: The majority's rule is a sensible one for the modern incorporated Fourth Amendment. But there's a fascinating historical tale to be told about the nature of constitutional change that I think the opinions in Moore have missed. Or so I will argue; I'm not completely sure I'm right, but if not I would be very interested in knowing where my analysis goes off course.

  First, some background. As originally enacted, the Fourth Amendment only applied to the federal government and not the states. Most states had their own rough equivalents to the Fourth Amendment in their state constitutions, but the federal Fourth Amendment only applied to federal agents. At the same time, federal law enforcement was almost completely unknown until the Prohibition era in the 1920s, meaning that for the first 130 years or so of American history the Fourth Amendment was on the books but was rarely invoked and its meaning was largely unknown.

  That picture changed dramatically in two cases, Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25 (1949) and Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961). Wolf held that the Fourth Amendment applied to the states but that the suppression remedy did not; Mapp overruled that latter part of Wolf and held that the Fourth Amendment and its exclusionary rule applied fully to the conduct of state actors. The doctrine Wolf and Mapp invoked to get there is generally known as the incorporation doctrine; the idea was that the Court interpreted the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment (which did apply to the states) as implicitly incorporating the Bill of Rights protections that had applied before only to the federal government. There's a long historical debate as to how persuasive this was as a reading of the Fourteenth Amendment, but the effect of the incorporation doctrine is clear: After incorporation, the rules that before had only applied to the federal government now also applied to state officers.

  For the Fourth Amendment, this was truly revolutionary: Suddenly the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC, placed itself in charge of creating uniform rules to regulate every police officer in the United States. Plus, state and local police officers did lots of things that federal agents rarely did, like "walk the beat" and the like, so suddenly the Supreme Court had to decide a lot of issues involving day-to-day police powers that had never been addressed as a matter of constitutional law.

  This takes us to the powers to make arrest and search incident to the arrest that was at issue in Moore. Today, the rules for such things are well-settled: Under the Fourth Amendment, arrests require probable cause and the power to arrest permits a search incident to a lawful arrest. Obviously so, it seems to us: It's Crim Pro 101. But if you look back at the history of the Fourth Amendment, those rules end up being of surprisingly recent vintage.

  Indeed, at the time of incorporation, the constitutional threshholds for arrest and searches incident to arrest were largely unknown. If I'm not mistaken, the Supreme Court didn't settle that probable cause provided the Fourth Amendment standard for a warrantless arrest until 1959, in Henry v. United States, 361 U.S. 98 (1959) (although it had arguably hinted at this in 1949 in the Brinegar case). Until then, various formulations of the common law standard existed that states had mostly adopted, but state standards didn't matter because the Fourth Amendment didn't apply to the states. Further, Congress didn't enact a comprehensive statute on what the legal standard for a federal warrantless arrest might be until 1956. See Public Law 728, § 104, 70 Stat. 570, July 18, 1956. For most of American history there were few federal warrantless arrests, so legislating a federal warrantless arrest standard just wasn't a major issue. As the Supreme Court summarized the federal law of arrest in 1948, "it appears that the federal legislative materials are meager, inconsistent and inconclusive."
  Until United States v. Di Re, 332 U.S. 581 (1948), that is. I've already offered a very detailed explanation of Di Re, so let me just touch on the key point unexplored in the earlier post: What makes Di Re a difficult case to understand today is that the Court was applying the "search incident to a lawful arrest" doctrine at a time when there was no Fourth Amendment law at all on what made an arrest "lawful." Indeed, there wasn't yet a federal statute, either; that came eight years later. So the Supreme Court was trying to figure out what made an arrest "lawful" in the absence of preexisting constitutional or federal statutory law on arrests!