voting on the Fourth Amendment

Topics: Rights
16 Mar 1995

From: "DG Ervan Darnell"

On 2/7/95, the text of the Fourth Amendment was proposed as an amendment to
the EXCLUSIONARY RULE REFORM ACT being considered in the House. Mr. Watts
(Rep.) proposed it and defended it. It was attacked (and ultimately
defeated) on the grounds that its inclusion would completely gut the
provision that allowed "good faith" warrantless searches. How that
provision was ever expected to be consistent with the actual Fourth
Amendment is a cat and mouse game of winking with the Supreme Court. The
rest of what follows are some excerpts (from
Mr. Watt: [...]
So my commitment to the Constitution does not have anything to do with
whether I agree with
somebody or disagree with somebody. My commitment is to defend the
Constitution. And when
I took the oath in this body, my commitment to that proposition continued.

It is a conservative philosophy which I espouse. I love the Constitution of
the United States. Even
when it is not convenient for me to love it, I still think it needs to be
defended and protected,
contrary to some of my colleagues, apparently, in this body.

For over 205 years now we have had this sacred language in the fourth
amendment of the
Constitution. It says that people ought to be secure in their persons,
houses, papers and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures. Today my colleagues come in with
new language,
trying to add some other language that they would have the Supreme Court go
back and interpret
for 200 more years.

Mr. Chairman, it is my opinion that this bill is going to generate
200-plus more years of litigation, because the language justifying an
objectively reasonable belief
is no more precise than the language of the fourth amendment of the
Constitution which exists

My colleagues on the Republican side would have us believe that they can
wave a magic wand
and craft some language that is so clear, so crystal clear, that there will
not be any litigation about
it. But, my friends, the crafters of our Constitution drafted this language,
and I would submit to
you that my colleagues on the other side are no smarter than the drafters of
the original
Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Mr. Chairman, I hope that we can fight to uphold the constitutional
provisions. I do not know
anybody in this body who can vote against this basic amendment. All it does
is say we are going
back to the fourth amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I hope anybody who
will vote against this
amendment will go home and look their constituents in the eye and say, `I
voted against the fourth

Mr. McCOLLUM [also Rep.]. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to the amendment.

Mr. Chairman, I think everybody here needs to understand that though the
gentleman may be
acting quite in good faith, and I know he believes sincerely what he is
doing, Members need to
understand that this amendment guts the bill as it now is written
altogether. While the gentleman is
offering a provision of the Constitutional language that clearly is already
there, and we might all
want to say, `Hooray, we are going to vote for that,' what we have to
realize is the gentleman is
saying we are going to put it in a place in this bill that comes very early
in the bill, after about three
lines, and then strike the entire rest of the bill, H.R. 666, so there will
be no good-faith exception
for any purpose in this bill when it is done. All we will be doing is
reproducing in bill form the
fourth amendment to the Constitution.

In essence, it is another way of voting against this bill. If you want to
vote the bill down, it is
another way to proceed to do that.

It is demeaning, in my judgment, to the Constitution in the second order of
things to go out and
reproduce the Constitution or 1 of the 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights
as a statute. It is in the
most sacrosanct document we have. It is in our Constitution. I do not think
it calls for any
reproduction to ratify our belief in the Constitution in some statutory form.

So really there are two reasons to vote against this: If you believe, as I
do very strongly, in
wanting to reaffirm an exception to the exclusionary rule and expand that
exception, which this bill
does, to allow us to get more evidence in in search and seizure cases, and
get more convictions
and get away from technicalities letting people who have committed crimes
off the hook, then you
need to vote against this amendment.

[TIME: 1740]
[...]. This amendment goes further and potentially can
destroy the entire concept of any exceptions to an exclusionary rule
whatsoever. [...]

[...much later...]

Mr. CONYERS. Mr. Chairman, I demand a recorded vote.

A recorded vote was ordered.

The vote was taken by electronic device, and there were--ayes 121, noes 303,
not voting 10

Ken Bentsen (A Houston area representative) voted "no".