Supreme Court

Do Welfare Applicants Forfeit the Fourth Amendment?

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That seems to be the conclusion to draw from the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to hear a case from San Diego, where the D.A.'s office has been sending agents to conduct suspicionless, warrantless searches on the private homes of welfare applicants.

Yes, applicants were free to refuse the searches, though I suspect that refusing a search would itself be (unofficially) enough to trigger further investigation. Refusing a search also means forfeiting welfare benefits.

This is part of a series of incidents across the country over the last few years using administrative or regulatory procedures to conduct warrantless searches for criminal activity (yes, I'm writing an article on it).

I suspect the law-and-order response to the policy in San Diego would be something along the lines of "if they can't prove they're clean, they don't deserve my tax dollars." Of course, if everyone who received any sort of government assistance had to consent to a search of their home, the Fourth Amendment would be pretty much null(er). For example, I'd guess there'd be quite a bit more outrage if these fishing expeditions/searches were being done on the homes of, say, middle class kids applying for government-subsidized student loans instead of low-income people applying for welfare.

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  1. I’m all in favor of making life difficult for people who take government benefits. If the government is supporting you, then you have to do what the government wants. I have a hard time seeing how libertarians would have trouble with that. And, yes, if the government wants to start making life more difficult for middle-class kids who take federal student loans, then I’m in favor of that, too. More harassment means fewer people on the dole.

  2. Marc,

    What about searching the homes of people who take the mortgage interest deduction? Or, how about the standard deduction?

  3. I don’t view tax deductions (where the government lets you keep your own money) the same as government assistance (where the government gives you the money of other people). If you are receiving payment from the government, then the government is free to attach certain conditions to that money.

  4. Drive on gov’t funded roads much, Marc?

  5. I suspect a better middle class example would be searching a home purchased using an FHA mortgage or some other tax-funded assistance.

    BTW, the WoD already has its tentacles in the federal student loan process.

  6. If you are receiving payment from the government, then the government is free to attach certain conditions to that money.

    Thats how we ended up with age 21 drinking laws. And women’s basketball.

  7. Hmmm… How about people living in state-owned housing? I am conflicted because part of me says that if I am providing the residence then I have certain rights. Is it all that different if I am merely providing the rent?

    I suppose I would have to side with individuals’ right to privacy and the whole unreasonable search and all that since at least that last bit is in the constitution via the bill of rights while welfare is the bastard child of legislation only vaguely related (through marriage, not blood) to the founding document.

  8. And, yes, if the government wants to start making life more difficult for middle-class kids who take federal student loans, then I’m in favor of that, too. More harassment means fewer people on the dole.

    Off the top of my head, social security, and unemployment, and farm subsidies, and research grant recipients, and all government employees (including members of congress), and government contractors (employees too), and heath care providers (medicare/medicaid), and grocery store owners/employees (food stamps) et al.
    Y’all feel free to add to this list. This is an attempt to eviscerate the 4th amendment and we should all be up in arms over it.

  9. No, they don’t give up their Fourth Amendment protections.
    Their dignity, however ….

  10. I’m all in favor of making life difficult for people who take government benefits. If the government is supporting you, then you have to do what the government wants. I have a hard time seeing how libertarians would have trouble with that. And, yes, if the government wants to start making life more difficult for middle-class kids who take federal student loans, then I’m in favor of that, too. More harassment means fewer people on the dole.

    What about government law enforcement? Using a public defender? Fire department? The aforementioned roads? Checking a book out at the library? Going to public school? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…

  11. Marc,

    I agree with you to some extent. However, looking at the big picture, I think this is more of a way of slowly introducing the “normalcy” of warrant-less searches.

    Do it to class of people that it can be argued “deserve” it. Then find another group, and the next thing you know, it’s everyone.

    I mean, I use the highway system every day, and it’s almost a license for cops to pull me over for whatever. With more stuff like this welfare thing, it’s almost commonplace.

    Damn…

  12. So I assume that all of you who oppose these searches also oppose TANF requirements that force people on welfare to seek work, right? After all, you don’t want to violate the constitutional ban on involuntary servitude. And you must also be against government efforts to root out Medicaid fraud in the health care sector, since that involves warrantless searches.

  13. What fourth amendment?

    Ohh, that old thing. That’s an anachronism, don’t you know? No one believes in that amendment anymore.

    marc:

    If the government is supporting you, then you have to do what the government wants.

    No, not as individuals who retain individual rights. Just because you receive a check from the government, doesn’t mean the Bill of Rights no longer applies to you. What you speak of is true (to some extent) when it comes to institutions. For instance, a university that receives federal funding may be subject to the dictates of the feds lest it lose said funding.

  14. Yes, applicants were free to refuse the searches, though I suspect that refusing a search would itself be (unofficially) enough to trigger further investigation. Refusing a search also means forfeiting welfare benefits

    I suspect the real reason behind the search program is to discourage people from applying for welfare so city government could tout the decling welfare application statistics as proof that Politician X deserves to be re-elected.

  15. I use the highway system every day, and it’s almost a license for cops to pull me over for whatever.

    Think back to the last time you took a driver’s test; does the phrase implied consent ring a bell?

  16. What about government law enforcement? Using a public defender? Fire department? The aforementioned roads? Checking a book out at the library? Going to public school? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…

    or people who work for the government and/or government contractors.

  17. Actually, Marc, I just plain oppose welfare. I’m opposed to any scheme that pays people to not work.

  18. More from our imperial courts we need more judges like CLARENCE THOMAS who will do the constitution and not the will of the UN and CFR evil men

  19. Just because you receive a check from the government, doesn’t mean the Bill of Rights no longer applies to you.

    No one is entitled to a government check. If the government wants to place certain restrictions on you in exchange for that check, then how is that a violation of the Constitution? It’s a voluntary exchange that a person can refuse if he or she does not like the tradeoff.

  20. Marc,

    In principle, yes, you’re right. But in practice right now, it would be very hard, nay, impossible for anyone to completely avoid all government anything. They are so far up our ass right now, you’d need to get a compound in Montana to get away.

    In practice, all this does is shave a little more away from the nub that used to be the 4th Amendment.

  21. It sounds to me like the DA’s office has way too many investigative agents. What is the cost/benefit ratio of the tactic? How many applicants are “caught” with a Rolls and a Bentley? If you have full time agents rooting around for corruption and cheaters, and each catches, say, one/week, then you are spending more on enforcement than you are losing on people beating the system.

  22. If the government wants to place certain restrictions on you in exchange for that check, then how is that a violation of the Constitution? It’s a voluntary exchange that a person can refuse if he or she does not like the tradeoff.

    Which kind of distinguishes government “benefits” in the form of a check from other government activities (cops, roads, etc.) that are out there in the commons and can’t really be declined by anyone.

  23. Usually I’m the Bill of Rights absolutist here, but in this case I’m not.

    Your protection against warrantless searches means that any evidence uncovered in a warrantless search cannot be used against you in a criminal matter. Denying welfare benefits is not a criminal penalty.

    Arguing that these people can keep the contents of their homes secret when one part of qualifying for the program is your personal property assets seems contradictory to me. It’s like arguing that since I have a right not to incriminate myself, I don’t have to answer any of the questions on the application form for welfare and they still have to give it to me.

    Yes, you can produce copious lists of government benefits provided in the modern era, and wonder aloud if this means that none of those people have 4th amendment rights any more. To the extent that qualification for those government benefits is dependent on what’s in your house, I would say that’s exactly what it means. This just means that we should reduce the number of government benefits out there, and reduce the degree to which those benefits are attached to representations about the contents of your home.

  24. If the government wants to place certain restrictions on you in exchange for that check,

    …then they better damn well show me exactly where I agreed to those specific restrictions. They can’t just make ’em up on the fly. Does the government get to ignore contract law whenever they feel like it?

  25. Not one of your better efforts Radley. If they consented to the search, it’s not a Fourth Amendment violation. Period. Anything else you have to say is just pulling heart strings. It might not *feel* right, but those are the dispositive facts.

  26. No one is entitled to a government check.

    Speaking of anachronistic notions…

  27. Russ2000,

    Can you show me where they agreed to receive restriction-free money in perpetuity? No? Didn’t think so.

  28. Radley,

    I teach Administrative Law as an adjunct at a local law school. Last semester, when I got to the case law indicating that the search warrant requirement was much lower in the administrative field than in the criminal field, but that criminal evidence seized is fair game, my students asked wouldn’t that just lead to the government using the administrative agencies to get to search whatever they wanted?

    This question did not surprise me, as I think I had all of them turned into libertarians by the end of the course.

  29. Even assuming this is a problem, the root solution is to stop the state’s forcible reallocation of wealth.

  30. Your protection against warrantless searches means that any evidence uncovered in a warrantless search cannot be used against you in a criminal matter.

    If this is the case, that I agree. But are you telling me some investigator is going to go to a house, see a crack pipe, and say “hey, i can’t touch that, it would be unconstitutional”

  31. No one is entitled to a government check. If the government wants to place certain restrictions on you in exchange for that check, then how is that a violation of the Constitution? It’s a voluntary exchange that a person can refuse if he or she does not like the tradeoff.

    Which means Congress could pass legislation requiring all welfare recipients to attend Catholic services three times a week. I’m not sure encouraging the government to buy its way around Constitutional rights is the smartest policy for those trying to limit government intrusions into everyday matters.

  32. Be careful about drawing any conclusions from the Supreme Court refusing to hear a case. It does not signal any kind of legal position or give any additional legal standing to the decision of the court below.

    Typically, the Court denies cases because they are procedurally flawed or factually uncertain, which makes it difficult for the Court to render a clear legal decision. Additionally, even if the cases were well-litigated in the lower courts, it may be that the factual background of the cases doesn’t provide a good basis for deciding the legal questions that the parties have asked the court to decide.

  33. Does anyone here get the Earned Income Credit at tax time?

    Supposing the government wanted to send cops to search your house, sans warrant, with your access to IEC booty on the line…

    It’s not as much fun when it’s you (and not lower class welfare queens) in the crosshairs, is it?

  34. Which kind of distinguishes government “benefits” in the form of a check from other government activities (cops, roads, etc.) that are out there in the commons and can’t really be declined by anyone.

    Does your employer get any checks from the government, RCD? Be honest.

  35. This is the proverbial camel’s nose, folks. Make no mistake about it.

  36. You can COUNT on THIS COURT going against the DEFENDANT’s RIGHTS EVERYTIME…in the name of LAW and ORDER.

    Since the COURT can simply choose NOT to hear the CASE…they can let stand all sorts of shit.

    And YES, perhaps they should do warrant-less searches on Haliburton, Lockhead, and other DEFENSE CONTRACTORS homes…especially the executives and their children…THEY TOO are ON WELFARE!!!

    I would LOVE to see one of DICK CHENEy’s friends have their PROPERTY confiscate due to the fact that their 16yo boy had a joint under the mattress.

  37. I’m sorry ChrisO…i disagree w/u 100%

    They purposely refused to hear this case b-cause their was simply no way to deny 4th ammendment to the POOR without denying to the RICH.

  38. I have a fannie mae home loan. Fannie mae was started by the government. When should I expect a visit?

  39. I don’t see what the problem is. People who receive welfare should have to house soldiers.

    Oh, wait a minute.

  40. Good reason to get rid of All government funding of whatever.

  41. New World Dan | November 27, 2007, 4:19pm | #
    Actually, Marc, I just plain oppose welfare. I’m opposed to any scheme that pays people to not work.

    Schemes involving paying people not to work are just fine, as long as it’s someone else’s money.

    I am opposed to any scheme that pays people *with my money, taken from me without my consent*.

  42. arbeit macht frei, eh?

  43. “Does anyone here get the Earned Income Credit at tax time?

    Supposing the government wanted to send cops to search your house, sans warrant, with your access to IEC booty on the line…”

    Do IRS agents count as “the cops”? I know many of them are armed Federal Agents. When the IRS decides to do an audit are you called to an office or do they come and sieze your stuff and just start going through it?

    It seems to me that the decision to treat you like a person or come busting in to toss your stuff like SWAT does to an NVDA (Non Violent Drug Offender) could depend on your reaction to being audited.

  44. Let’s look at what the next likely step is:

    Searching the homes of people whose kids attend public school. Probably in the name of “ensuring a drug free environment.”

    Discuss.

  45. Searching the homes of people whose kids attend public school. Probably in the name of “ensuring a drug free environment.”

    They are already doing this…although in that case the family has a right to decline without any negative consequences

    http://www.fox23news.com/news/national/story.aspx?content_id=1a23df7f-95c1-48f3-87a1-13899ff6ff34

  46. Does your employer get any checks from the government, RCD? Be honest.

    Only as payment for services provided. Really. And what they pay us may or may not cover our costs.

    Not sure what this has to do with people trading their rights for government booty.

  47. This is already reality. It’s not the cops but some school security officials who have the right to check wether the kid actually is living in his/her public school zone.

  48. If the government wants to place certain restrictions on you in exchange for that check, then how is that a violation of the Constitution? It’s a voluntary exchange that a person can refuse if he or she does not like the tradeoff.

    Marc, I might *might* agree with this, if there was something within the constitution which said “The above may be null and void by contractual agreement”. I’m a libtertarian and as such I think that 99% of welfare of any kind is the principal source of the downfall of mankind (a little overstated, maybe) but receiving benefits from the government can’t possibly implicitly render your civil rights null and void.

    If anything, the Constitution implies you have more rights than those explicitly enumerated within said document.

    You may be able to make some very narrow argument that people living in public housing may be subject to certain limits on their privacy– as public housing can often be the breeding place for all manner of Bad Things(tm) which can victimize the very people who live there. But again, it would be a very narrow argument- something akin to tenant/landlord law– seeing as the government is your landlord*.

    But once you start making the argument that upon receipt of a dime from a government, you’re in forfeiture of your rights, that pretty much makes us all in forfeit of our rights:

    o Farmers and farm subsidies.
    o Anyone on social security.
    o Homeowners receiving interest writeoff.
    o Anyone who has ever received a check from FEMA

    *not to be snarky here, but now that property rights have largely been gutted, the government is the implicit landlord to all of us.

  49. Searching the homes of people whose kids attend public school. Probably in the name of “ensuring a drug free environment.”

    They are already doing this…although in that case the family has a right to decline without any negative consequences (J sub D’s emphasis)

    And seat belt laws will NEVER be used in primary enforcement. I may sound paranoid, but this is the way it always starts. We’re losing our freedom in drabs and dribbles. The nanny-staters and law enforcement goons must be fought every step of the way.

  50. If the government wants to place certain restrictions on you in exchange for that check, then how is that a violation of the Constitution? It’s a voluntary exchange that a person can refuse if he or she does not like the tradeoff.

    It’s not a voluntary exchange since the taxpayers who provided the money in the first place have little to no say on where that money goes. (I can’t believe I’m defending welfare recipients in this instance.) I’ve given money to people that I know invested it in booze or drugs, and I don’t have a problem with that. Why should the government have a problem with it on my behalf? If some busybudy running a welfare department has a problem with potential dirtbags receiving the money I was forced to give them, then they should quit, head up a church group, collect voluntary donations, and discriminate all they like. When the money comes from me, via the government, the government should have no say at all regarding what the ultimate recipient spends it on. Certainly they shouldn’t take it upon themselves to violate someone’s rights, in my name, just in case that person might go out and get stoned that night.

    Of course, preferably, the government wouldn’t be redistributing my income to anyone else at all.

  51. MK wins at 4:57.

  52. OK.

    We have a government benefit that citizens have to apply for. In the course of making that application, they have to affirm that certain things about their economic situation are true. To continue receiving the benefit, those things have to continue to be true. The only evidence regarding whether some of those things are true or false is in the homes of the people who have made the affirmative statements in the course of applying for the benefit. Is everyone in this thread seriously arguing that the state is not allowed to make any effort to verify the truth of the statements the recipients of these benefits make?

    Can the welfare department run credit reports? Or do they need a warrant to do that, too?

  53. Fluffy,

    Does that require a “search”?

    they have to affirm that certain things about their economic situation are true.

    When I applied for a home loan, I had to fork over all kinds of information about my ability to pay it back. And as I recall, they were pretty stringent. Not only did they want to see money, but they wanted to see where in hell it came from.

    There could certainly be an argument that since we’re talking about public monies, that it’s a different ball game. I’m not really sure, however, that it requires a search. Are the limits of the search spelled out clearly? I haven’t read all of the details of this particular case, but I’m wondering if they can open up shoe boxes, dig through closets and drawers, much like the police would during a drug search?

    Can the welfare department run credit reports? Or do they need a warrant to do that, too?

    Sure, why not? I have to let the bank run one when I get a loan.

  54. That’s a joke. Social Services never, ever shows up without giving the welfare drone a week’s notice to move her boyfriend out and clean up the empty beer cans. Yes, I know this is the DA, but same same.

    On a slightly related note, Riverside County Ca Sheriff’s deputies are making surprise, no-warrant visits to small businesses demanding proof of Worker’s Comp insurance, sales tax resale permits, and other minutiae.

    That’s because the crime rate is so fargin’ low here.

  55. Drive on gov’t funded roads much, Marc?

    Don’t know about Marc, but I drive on government roads a lot. Partly because it’s illegal to build private freeways. I also noticed that there is huge transfer of money from my wallet to the government’s bank to pay for those roads.

    Not quite the same thing as hauling down a check from the taxpayers every month for breathing.

  56. What about government law enforcement? Using a public defender? Fire department? The aforementioned roads? Checking a book out at the library? Going to public school? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…

    Mo, as I mentioned, you must surely make a distinction between the tax paying public and the tax consuming public.

    Secondly, if you are on corporate welfare there are all kinds of conditions to the contract. The government has the right to inspect your books and records to ensure compliance with all regulations that are part of the contract. They do not have to get a warrant to enter your office and inspect your records.

  57. Not to sound like some psuedo-conspiracy theorist, but I’m thinking this is the government’s way of intimidating people misusing welfare off of it. After all, if any senator or representative voted to actually reduce welfare so crap like that wouldn’t happen, it will usually come back to haunt them next election.

  58. A man chooses.

    A slave obeys.

  59. Here’s a plan:

    Abolish welfare and then it won’t be an issue.

    Ta Dah!

  60. Mo, I just got a note from my brother in law informing me that California doesn’t really have an open primary anymore (a lawsuit by the Democrats put an end to that, but let’s vote for Hillary and divided government anyway).

    Anybody who wants to vote for Ron Paul has to register Republican by early January.

    Looks like it’s true, which was a big surprise to me all lolligagging along thinking we had an open primary.

  61. If you’re in Cali…

    Go here

    Fill it out, print it, sign it, fold it, stamp it, mail it…

    tada!

    you’re a California Republican!

  62. How about searching everybody who receives a Social Security check every month?

  63. The Wine Commonsewer-Yup. Basically, there was a proposition passed that required an open primary. However, the parties objected on constitutional grounds (I believe the logic was freedom of association (or freedom to not to associate)-that is, a party gets to pick who gets to vote in thier primaries). So, for awhile, the only legal way to merge the proposition and the party’s request was to hold open primaries, but the party was free to throw out any votes from voters that weren’t members of thier own party (which was messy to say the least-somebody who wasn’t registered in a party could vote in thier primary, but thier vote didn’t actually count). I believe eventually somebody realized that was stupid and went back to a totally closed primary, although I’m not sure how they got to that point.

  64. A man chooses.

    A slave obeys.

    I’ve been wondering when Bioshock would make an appearance at H & R.

  65. x, y

    Can you show me where they agreed to receive restriction-free money in perpetuity? No? Didn’t think so.

    You wanna change the terms of the contract? Fine. Just give them a chance to back out of the contract first becfore you start enforcing new restictions.

  66. First I shouldn’t have to give my money to the government to have them tell me what I must do to get a % of it back from them. They should not have my money to begin with and if they didn’t I wouldn’t be looking for money.

    Personally I don’t like the whole government intrusion into our lives at any level and do not think these searches should be allowed.

    That said I also feel that anyone able to work that is currently living solely off the governments tit should not be allowed to vote so long as they are receiving these funds.

    The reason I say this is that I feel if I pay I should say and likewise those that do not pay but only take should not have a vote equal to that of everyone else that works for their money. Why should someone on the government tit be allowed to vote for someone who promises them more for continuing to do nothing? If you want to vote then get a job. Once the number of people being paid to vote for politicians with tax payer money outnumber the amount that pay the taxes it is game over as far as I can see.

    In what other area is someone with no investment or financial tie to something given a vote as to how funds should be used and who should decide where they go? None that I can think of.

  67. Jawa Tramp. Thank You! Thank You. You just saved me a bunch of time and I appreciate it very much.

  68. Marc, define unalienable right.

  69. Look, so if you refuse to let people search your home, then “you must have something to hide,” right?

    Just remember that if you do let people search your home, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you have nothing to hide.

  70. The Bill of Rights applies only to the feds.

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