This article was first published on the American Thinker website.
Some on the left now argue that only individuals—not businesses or business associations such as corporations—should enjoy First Amendment rights. To be sure, their argument contradicts decisions made, not just by the current centrist Supreme Court, but also by “progressive” Supreme Court majorities throughout the 20th century.
If it were true that businesses have no First Amendment rights, then they should have no Fourth Amendment protection either. In other words, businesses and corporations should not be able to challenge government searches and seizures. After all, the speech and press clauses of the First Amendment protect “the freedom of speech” and “the freedom of the press” without regard to who is speaking or writing. But the Fourth Amendment protects only “the people,” not businesses or organizations.
Yet a Supreme Court decision issued this week, City of Los Angeles v. Patel, clearly assumes that the Fourth Amendment protects businesses and organizations, not just individuals.
The case was brought by a group of plaintiffs. They included individual hotel operators—business people, in other words. They also included a lodging association—that is, an entity. The plaintiffs challenged a City of Los Angeles ordinance that required hotels to gather certain information about their guests and make it available to the police upon police request.
The Court proceeded on the assumption that hotels have a Fourth Amendment right to protect their registration records. The Court ruled that the ordinance was unconstitutional on its face, because the ordinance did not provide for review by an impartial magistrate before the hotel was forced to turn over its records to the police.
There’s more: The five-justice majority protecting the hotel businesses encompassed all the Court’s most liberal justices. Justice Sotomayor wrote the decision, which was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagen. Also in the majority was Justice Kennedy, a centrist.
The four more conservative justices (Roberts, Alito, Scalia and Thomas) all dissented. But they did not dispute the assumption that the Fourth Amendment protected businesses and business organizations. They argued only that police searches authorized by the city ordinance were “reasonable” and therefore in compliance with the Fourth Amendment.
If all the Court’s most liberal justices believe businesses and entities are covered by a part of the Bill of Rights that, by its terms, applies only to “the people,” then there would seem to be no basis for denying businesses the protection of the rest of the Bill of Rights as well.