The ACLU had challenged a San Diego County policy, saying its warrantless inspections violated privacy rights. The Supreme Court refuses to hear it.
WASHINGTON — County welfare officers may conduct routine searches of the homes of welfare recipients to combat fraud under a ruling in a California case that the Supreme Court let stand Monday.
The justices refused to hear a challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union, which contended that San Diego County’s policy of requiring home searches without a warrant violated privacy rights.
The 4th Amendment to the Constitution forbids the police to search a residence without a warrant. But the home inspections in San Diego County are different, judges said, because they do not seek evidence of a crime. Instead, they are intended to determine whether welfare recipients qualify for benefits.
The San Diego district attorney adopted a policy in 1997 under which applicants for welfare benefits must agree to a “walk through” of their residence while they are present. The inspectors check on whether the applicant has an eligible dependent child and has the amount of assets claimed. They also check on whether a supposedly “absent” parent lives at the residence. If residents refuse to permit a home visit, they can lose their benefits.
In its suit, the ACLU contended that the mandatory home searches, based on no evidence of wrongdoing, violated the 4th Amendment and its ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.
“This case is nothing less than an attack on the poor,” said Judge Harry Pregerson, writing for the dissenters. “This is especially atrocious in light of the fact that we do not require similar intrusions into the homes and lives of others who receive government entitlements. The government does not search through the closets and medicine cabinets of farmers receiving subsidies.”
The ACLU asked the Supreme Court to take up the case of Sanchez vs. County of San Diego, but it was dismissed in a one-line order Monday.
The Bill of Rights only restricts the power of the federal government, but the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that the Fourth Amendment is applicable to state governments by operation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Are we waiting for headline news to hammer into our heads that the US Constitution is being dismantled, one Amendment at a time?