The dust-up between New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul over presidential fidelity to the Constitution — particularly the Fourth Amendment — was the most illuminating two minutes of the Republican debate last week.
It is a well-regarded historical truism that the Fourth Amendment was written by victims of government snooping, the 1770s version. The Framers wrote it to assure that the new federal government could never do to Americans what the king had done to the colonists.
What did the king do? He dispatched British agents and soldiers into the colonists’ homes and businesses ostensibly looking for proof of payment of the king’s taxes and armed with general warrants issued by a secret court in London.
A general warrant did not name the person or place that was the target of the warrant, nor did it require the government to show any suspicion or evidence in order to obtain it. The government merely told the secret court it needed the warrant — the standard was “governmental need” — and the court issued it. General warrants authorized the bearer to search wherever he wished and to seize whatever he found.
The Fourth Amendment requires the government to present to a judge evidence of wrongdoing on the part of a specific target of the warrant, and it requires that the warrant specifically describe the place to be searched or the person or thing to be seized. The whole purpose of the Fourth Amendment is to protect the right…