Conventional historical accounts of the Fourth Amendment generally ignore the entire antebellum period. Fourth Amendment scholars of an originalist bent typically look to the three decades from the American Writs of Assistance controversy and the British Wilkesite cases in the 1760s, to the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791. Scholarship then jumps to the post-Civil War period and the first two Supreme Court decisions interpreting the Amendment, In re Jackson in 1878 and United States v. Boyd in 1886. Ignoring the entire antebellum period makes some sense given that the Supreme Court did not decide a single Fourth Amendment cases during this lengthy period. But just because the Court did not make any Fourth Amendment law does not mean that the Amendment lay dormant. The Amendment was, in fact, very much alive in the hands of Northern lawyers and state legislators resisting the seizure of people of color in their States as alleged fugitives from slavery, whether under the auspices of the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850 or under the so-called common-law “right of recaption.” Lawyers representing alleged fugitives from slavery and state legislators trying to protect free persons of color from being kidnapped into slavery mobilized the Fourth Amendment as a preservation of state control of seizures within each respective State. According to this theory, while the Constitution’s Fugitive Slave Clause required that enslaved persons escaping bondage be “delivered up,” the Fourth Amendment demanded that any claim that a person was a fugitive from slavery would have to be adjudicated by the procedures established by the State where the claim was made. Seizing an allegedly enslaved person without heeding those procedures could subject the slave catcher to civil and criminal liability under state law. In the infamous case of Prigg v. Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court, rather than tackle this Fourth Amendment argument, simply ignored it and broadly rejected States’ attempts to regulate the seizure of allegedly enslaved persons within their borders. Ultimately, this view of the Fourth Amendment as a preservation of state control was forever lost.Download the article from SSRN at the link.
December 24, 2021
Mannheimer on Fugitives From Slavery and the Lost History of the Fourth Amendment @nkuedu @NKUChaseLaw
Michael Mannheimer, Northern Kentucky University College of Law, has published Fugitives from Slavery and the Lost History of the Fourth Amendment. Here is the abstract.