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Rulings on raisins and hotel registries favor individual rights

The Supreme Court today ruled on cases that set boundaries in the government’s power over individuals. One concerned the government's right to regulate prices of raisins by seizing crops, and another challenged a Los Angeles law requiring hotels to give guest lists to the police. Gwen Ifill discusses the rulings with Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The Supreme Court issued a set of rulings today with a unifying theme, restricting government power and boosting individual rights.

    Both cases happened in California. In one, a Los Angeles hotel owner questioned a city law requiring him to turn guest lists over to police. Two hundred miles north, in Fresno, another case tested whether the government could seize some of a farmer’s raisin crop in order to control prices.

    Joining me to discuss these opinions, as always, is our regular high court contributor, Marcia Coyle of “The National Law Journal.”

    We’re waiting for a lot of things out of the court at the end of June, but, in the meantime, this was really kind of interesting. Both of these cases were a little bit about government restraint. Let’s start by talking about the California raisin board.

  • MARCIA COYLE, “The National Law Journal”:

    Raisins, OK.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    What is it?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    OK.

    The Raisin Administrative Committee is a committee composed primarily of raisin growers. And they operate under a 1949 marketing order that the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued in order to stabilize raisin prices. So, how it actually operates is, the — this committee decides each year how much of the raisin crop to set aside in a reserve pool, keeping it out of the domestic market. Those reserve raisins can later be sold as exports or used in public school lunches or for nonmarketing purposes.

    And any net profit from that after administrative costs will go back to the raisin growers.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And the farmers are basically saying, we should be compensated for these raisins that you’re holding out our crop?

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Well, really, in this particular case, it’s a family farm, the Hornes, who, as you said, grow raisins in California. They participated in what is a volunteer program for 30 years.

    But in early 2000, for two years, they decided not to turn over their raisins to the Administrative Committee. The United States brought an enforcement action against them because they weren’t complying with the order, imposed a penalty of almost half-a-million dollars for those two years. They challenged the raisin program, saying that it violated the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause.

    As you know, Gwen, the Fifth Amendment’s Taking Clause requires the government to pay just compensation when it takes private property for a public purpose. The lower federal court hearing the Hornes’ case — that’s — these are the growers — said that personal property receives less protection under the clause than real property.

    And the Supreme Court today in an 8-1 decision written by the chief justice said no. He said that the Fifth Amendment applies to personal property, as well as real property. If the government takes your car, it’s going to apply. If the government takes your home, it’s going to apply.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The second case is more about search and seizure, but this is about an ordinance in Los Angeles having to do with hotels actually taking your name in registering guests, and police can come and look at them at any time.

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    That’s right. The ordinance required specific information on hotel and motel guest registries, and then said that that had to be made accessible to law enforcement when it wanted to look at the registries.

    The city claimed that some motels and hotels were used for drug trafficking, human trafficking and prostitution. This was a way for the police to try to keep track of this and clamp down on it. The ordinance was challenged by a group of motel owners, who said that this violated the Fourth Amendment, which protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures.

    Today, the court in a decision by Justice Sotomayor agreed with the hotel owners. She said that it was an unreasonable search to have the police have full access whenever they wanted, because there was no pre-compliance review process, so that, if an owner objected, he could go to a neutral third party, he or she could go to a third neutral party and make the case.

    She also said that this wasn’t going to be particularly burdensome on law enforcement, because they could still get something called an administrative subpoena to look at the registry.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Another way.

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Right. It doesn’t require probable cause, like a warrant does.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Didn’t — but doesn’t it read to you — at least it read to me, a complete layperson — that the court was ruling against the government, government reach in both of these cases?

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Well, yes.

    The Fourth Amendment is what in this case is curbing what law enforcement can do, although Justice Sotomayor in the majority didn’t feel that it was that big a burden for them. Justice Scalia wrote the main dissent. And he said he felt hotels and motels were closely regulated industries, which the court has said really are an exception to the Fourth Amendment.

    And he felt that the searches here would be completely reasonable because of the history of motels with being havens — he said havens for prostitution, drug trafficking.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    OK.

    Well, we will wait for the other big shoes to drop later this week, perhaps, Marcia.

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Thursday and Friday, Gwen.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    OK. Thanks a lot.

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    My pleasure.

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