Title

The Expressive Fourth Amendment

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

3-2022

ISSN

0038-3910

Publisher

University of Southern California Gould School of Law

Language

en-US

Abstract

After the eight-minute and forty-six second video of George Floyd’s murder went viral, cities across the United States erupted in mass protests with people outraged by the death of yet another Black person at the hands of police. The streets were flooded for months with activists and community members of all races marching, screaming, and demonstrating against police brutality and for racial justice. Police—like warriors against enemy forces—confronted overwhelmingly peaceful protesters with militarized violence and force. Ultimately, racial justice protesters and members of the media brought lawsuits under section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act in the district courts of Minneapolis, Dallas, Oakland, Seattle, Portland, Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis, claiming extreme violence and unlawful and abusive use of less lethal weapons by police during protests. The first Part of this Article provides a recent history of this police brutality against racial justice activists in the George Floyd protests. The second Part of this Article reviews circuit court opinions in protest cases from the last three decades and district court injunctions from the George Floyd protest litigation to analyze how courts currently evaluate, in section 1983 Actions, the Fourth Amendment reasonableness of police force pursuant to Graham v. Connor. This Part demonstrates that in their Fourth Amendment reasonableness calculus, courts discount plaintiffs’ involvement in valuable politically expressive conduct. The third Part of this Article argues that the Fourth Amendment mandates courts evaluate the reasonableness of protest policing in light of freedom of expression which means they must positively weigh plaintiffs’ expressive protest activity. This reframing of reasonableness is supported by historical evidence of the Framers’ intent and Supreme Court jurisprudence on searches of books, papers, and other expressive materials when such items arguably deserve First Amendment protection. The fourth Part of this Article discusses the difference an expression-specific Fourth Amendment—the expressive Fourth Amendment—reasonableness test would have made in one of the circuit protest cases.

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