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Concreteness Drift and the Fourth Amendment

33 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2014  

Luke Milligan

University of Louisville - Louis D. Brandeis School of Law

Date Written: January 25, 2014


Katz v. United States was expected to reorient interpretations of the Fourth Amendment. This was not simply because Katz repealed the constitutional rules governing electronic eavesdropping established in Olmstead v. United States. Rather, it was because Katz called for doctrinal reform across a broad swath of cases-the entire catalogue of "search" issues-and it supplanted a mechanical rule with an open standard based on contextual and evolving societal expectations. Of course the hope of Katz would prove hollow. In forty-five years, Katz has had only a marginal impact on the Court's "search" decision-making. Put more directly, Katz has failed to direct judges to evaluate the term "search" based on contextual and evolving privacy norms. Explanations for Katz's failure come in many forms: some point to the resilience of the justices' personal juridical and policy preferences; others to the vagueness of the Katz opinions themselves; and still others to the inaccessibility of good empirical data regarding "reasonable expectations of privacy." I agree, more or less, with each of these explanations. Yet I believe that the prevailing explanations are somewhat incomplete. This essay seeks to offer a fuller picture of Katz's failure.

Keywords: Fourth Amendment, Katz v. United States, Olmstead v. United States, constitutional law, electronic eavesdropping

JEL Classification: K1, K39

Suggested Citation

Milligan, Luke, Concreteness Drift and the Fourth Amendment (January 25, 2014). Mississippi Law Journal, Vol. 82, 2013; University of Louisville School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series No. 2014-03. Available at SSRN:

Luke Milligan (Contact Author)

University of Louisville - Louis D. Brandeis School of Law ( email )

Wilson W. Wyatt Hall
Louisville, KY 40292
United States


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