The Expressive Fourth Amendment
56 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2021 Last revised: 15 Feb 2022
Date Written: 2021
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.
Keywords: Section 1983, Civil Rights Act, civil rights, Graham v. Connor, protest, policing, fourth amendment, criminal procedure, first amendment, expressive conduct, George Floyd, protest policing, police brutality, Black Lives Matter, BLM, excessive force
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