United States v. Ehrlichman

Facts: Agents of the Executive Branch broke into a psychiatrists office without a warrant for the purpose of obtaining the doctor’s medical records relating to one of his patients, Ellsberg, then under Federal indictment for revealing top secret documents.

  • D’s Claims: The defendants claimed that the (1) the break-in was legal under the Fourth Amendment because the President authorized it for reasons of national security; and (2) that even in the absence of such authorization, the national security information available to the defendants at that time led them to the good-faith, reasonable belief that the break-in was legal and justified in the national interest.
  1. The defendants argued that the courts have begun to carve out an exception to the traditional rule for purely intelligence-gathering searches deemed necessary for the conduct of foreign affairs.

Issue: May an executive officer who has no explicit authority from the president or the attorney general and without a warrant, break into a private office and claim justification based upon an implicit delegation of presidential power to oversee national security?

Holding: No. An executive officer, who has no explicit authority from the president or the attorney general and without a warrant, may not break into a private office and claim justification based upon an implicit delegation of presidential power to oversee national security.

  • This break in and search was “clearly illegal under the unambiguous mandate of the Fourth Amendment” because no search warrant was obtained”

Reasoning:

  • 4th Amendment: No right so fundamental should be now, after the long struggle against govt. trespass, be diluted to accommodate conduct of the very type the Amendment was designed to outlaw.
  • In regard to D’s argument that President has authority, by reason of his special responsibilities over foreign relations and national defense, to suspend it’s requirement: Govt. must comply w/strict constitutional and statutory limitations on trespassory searches and arrests even when known foreign agents are involved. To hold otherwise, unless exigent circumstances, would be to abandon 4th amendment to whim of exec.
  • In regards to argument that the courts have begun to carve out an exception to the traditional rule: Any such foreign intelligence exceptions have been narrowly limited to wiretapping cases – which is a much less intrusive search. (is it really less intrusive – it’s ongoing.) Cannot give the president a blank check to disregard the 4th
  1. The Court concludes that the President not only lacked the authority to authorize the break-in, but also that he did not in fact give any specific directive to do so.
  2. Even if the President did have the power, the Court rejects that the President could delegate his alleged power to suspend constitutional rights to non-law enforcement officers.

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