Supreme Court

SCOTUS Overturns L.A. Law Allowing Police to Conduct Warrantless Searches of Hotel Guest Registries

SCOTUS issues 5-4 decision in Los Angeles v. Patel


Credit: Library of Congress

In a 5-4 decision issued today, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Los Angeles law which had required hotels to make their guest registries "available to any officer of the Los Angeles Police Department for Inspection" without the need for a warrant.

"A hotel owner who refuses to give an officer access to his or her registry can be arrested on the spot," observed the majority opinion of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. "Business owners cannot reasonably be put to this kind of choice." Under Supreme Court precedent, she explained, "absent consent, exigent circumstances, or the like, in order for an administrative search to be constitutional, the subject of the search must be afforded an opportunity to obtain precompliance review before a neutral decisionmaker." Because the Los Angeles law did not allow protesting hotel owners to seek such review in the face of police commands, the law was ruled unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.

"To be clear," Sotomayor added, "we hold only that a hotel owner must be afforded an opportunity to have a neutral decisionmaker review an officer's demand to search the registry before he or she faces penalties for failing to comply. Actual review need only occur in those rare instances where a hotel operator objects to turning over the registry."

Sotomayor's opinion was joined in full by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Sameul Alito all voted in dissent.

The Supreme Court's opinion in Los Angeles v. Patel is available here.

NEXT: Charles Paul Freund on Rachel Dolezal and the 'White Negro' Hall of Fame

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. OK 2-2.

    But – 5-4 AGAIN?

    Yeah, I’m not REALLY surprised. Just…I just continue to be disappointed.

    1. Plus, the reasoning in these cases is…..troubling.

      1. Agreed. Who exactly is a “neutral decisionmaker”?

    2. Freak’n frightening. Absolutely frightening this 5-4 stuff.

      This country is toast.

    3. The other decision was not 5-4 it was 8-1 on the important part.

      1. Did I say “the other decision”? No – I said, “5-4 AGAIN”, because we keep having 5-4 decisions on lots of cases.

        Do try to keep up, Cyto. I know it’s a slow day in your own country – we’re trying to plummet into the abyss just as quick as we can.

        1. Well, to be fair, when you have to count on your fingers, and you’re wearing mittens all the time because Canada, 5 – 4 and 8 – 1 are a lot harder to tell apart.

    4. get used to it

    5. How was this vote not 9-0 against the cops? I’m pretty sure the 4th Amendment mentions something about “secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects”. Are hotel registration books made of paper?

  2. I see Mr. New Professionalism continues to side with the cops.

    1. You have no idea. Check out this shit re another opinion from today.

      1. Oy vey.

      2. Just for fun, should we list all of the other things that constitution contains no freestanding prohibitions against?

        *Bonus if you list anything about woodchippers

    2. Nothing new. Scalia has been a copsucker for decades.

  3. Actual review need only occur in those rare instances where a hotel operator objects to turning over the registry.

    So the 4th Amendment applies only if the hotel operator is uppity enough to object to the warrantless search.

    1. “The right of the people to be secure …”. I don’t see anything in there about hotels. Did they even have those when the Constitution was written? And was it a corporation that owned the hotel? As we all know, corporations are not people.

      In all seriousness, absurd.

      1. In all fairness, the data being requested belongs to the hotel owner, NOT the guest. Whether he believes it is good business practice to secure the privacy of his guests is up to him and any contractual arrangement he voluntarily makes with them.

        1. Very much agreed. My post was a facetious reference to some leftie talking points.

        2. what could go wrong?

  4. Kennedy’s getting a workout today.

  5. Actual review need only occur in those rare instances where a hotel operator objects to turning over the registry

    Rare? This should be the standard response to such requests. “Come back with a warrant.”

    1. It does highlight the need for an active and aware citizenry.

      1. It does highlight the need for an active and aware citizenry.

        Exactly, and Cops are masters at getting consent from people without them realizing that’s what they are doing. “So there should be no issue if I take a look around, right?”

        Now consider that the person they are asking is probably some desk clerk on the night shift, and we see how easily caps will get around this.

      2. I’m aware that I should avoiding the shit-hole that is Los Angeles.

        1. Avoid. Damnit.

    2. Except that cops face no penalties for illegally arresting someone for failure to obey an unlawful order. So saying “Come back with a warrant” will almost guarantee an illegal arrest. And nothing else will happen.

    3. Eh. I don’t know. Maybe if there were a cultural propensity to do so in the first place, but there isn’t. Why should a hotel care too much about the police obtaining information on who’s staying there? Probably much easier to just comply.

      1. How about repeat business? Would you go back to a hotel that gave your info to the fuzz?

        1. Why not? You do it every time you use your phone…

        2. I see what you’re getting at. I just don’t imagine that there’s any sort of pressure from the patrons not to comply. I would imagine that the impact on repeat business is nearly zero.

          1. This seems like a slippery slope. After hotels, what? Will bars have to keep electronic records of every ID they’ve scanned that night?

            1. I’m not making any sort of ethical claim at all, so I don’t know how it can be a slippery slope. I’m simply pointing out that the market mechanisms of today, however distorted they may be, are not going to punish business owners who do this. And I’m not convinced that the populace would care even in a far less distorted market.

  6. So how is this hotel guest registry different from cell tower records held by phone companies?

    1. They’re not letting the guests object. They’re letting the hoteliers object.

      1. Upon reading, in the cell tower case there was a court order, just not a search warrant. But such a court order is probably not even needed when confronting hoteliers. So little to be gained by this ruling.

  7. “A hotel owner who refuses to give an officer access to his or her registry can be arrested on the spot,” observed the majority opinion of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

    They still can, only it will be an illegal arrest instead of a legal one. And nothing else will happen.

    1. This is a terrific point.

      1. It’s a point that’s often lost. Is it legal to record the cops? Yes. Will anything happen if a cop illegally arrests you for it? No. So is it really legal if a cop can arrest you for it?

        1. By that logic everything is potentially ille… oh.

  8. We’re on a roll!

    1. What’s this “we” stuff, Canuckosabe?

  9. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Sameul [sic] Alito all voted in dissent.

    How could anyone dissent from what amounts to a clear violation of the 4th Amendment? Especially Thomas. I am very surprised.

    1. Are you? Their views on 4th Amendment due process are hardly surprising. Scalia has been known to sneer at anything which suggests the guilt finding process in this country’s lower courts is less-than-perfect, even bringing up examples in his opinions of death penalty convictions to show the system works that were later overturned.

      1. Scalia = Tulpa. Got it.

    2. Perhaps because they think it did not go far enough?

      It is possible, but unlikely.

      1. Highly unlikely. They could have just written a concurrence if that was the case which goes further than the majority opinion and not a dissent which comes to an opposite conclusion as the majority.

    3. When cops are involved, Scalia is the first one on his knees ready to suck them off.

  10. Can we merge Sotomayor’s 4th Amendment views with Alito’s 5th Amendment views somehow?

    1. Don’t do it, you might get Alito’s 4th Amendment views merged with Sotomayer’s 5th Amendment views!

      1. Oh God

  11. Is there any hope this ruling will impact secondhand goods ordinances which require businesses to provide inventories to law enforcement (see attached)?…..-ordinance

  12. Kinda scary it was only a 5-4 vote

  13. Because hotel registries are neither papers nor effects.

    Got it.

  14. Scalia is bipolar. Half the time he supports civil rights, the other half he fellates cops.

    1. He is okay on some civil rights issues — he doesn’t seem to believe in indefinite detentions, though he wobbles on that when it comes to “terrorists” — but generally absolutely terrible.

      He’s the one who said “actual innocence is irrelevant under the 4th Amendment” (paraphrasing). While technically true, he doesn’t believe sending an innocent person to death, even based on prosecutorial misconduct or on evidence which would have actually been impossible to uncover at trial, is somehow a failure of due process.

    2. Every justice has a set of issues where they favor liberty and a set where they don’t. In other words, no justice actually favors liberty, in and of itself.

  15. Kennedy is getting better on the 4th Amendment cases, slowly but surely. I read somewhere he had an epiphany on the cruelty many defendants endure at the hands of our criminal justice system.

  16. Actual review need only occur in those rare instances where a hotel operator objects to turning over the registry.”

    On those rare instances where a hotel operator needs a good beating at the hands of the police.

  17. Cue “exigent circumstances” claims in 3?2?

  18. A GOOD HOTEL CAN MAKE or break a trip. The worst hotel in the best place is still going to make retiring after a long day an unfortunate experience. The best hotel in the worst place, on the other hand, can be something of an oasis. Take the best hotels and put them in the best places, and you’ve got a private slice of the vacation you’ve always dreamed of.

    Here are 24 absolutely epic dream hotels.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.