Civil Rights

Privacy and Cell-Site Simulators - Podcast

Criminal Law & Procedure Practice Group Podcast
Howard W. Cox, Brian L. Owsley July 20, 2016

Cell-site simulators are devices used by law enforcement. In response to the signals emitted by a cell-site simulator, cellular devices in the proximity identify the simulator as the most attractive cell tower in the area and transmit signals to the simulator that identify the device. Using these simulators, investigators can locate cellular devices whose unique identifiers are already known to law enforcement, or determine the unique identifiers of an unknown device by collecting limited signaling information from devices in the simulator user’s vicinity.

It has been a subject of debate whether the use of cell-site simulators by the government requires a warrant supported by probable cause. In September 2015, the Justice Department released a policy requiring federal investigators to obtain a warrant prior to employing a simulator, except under exceptional circumstances.

Is there a Fourth Amendment reasonable expectation of privacy in the data collected by cell-site simulators? Who is in the best position to establish limits in this area (if any), Congress or the courts? Should investigators be permitted to use simulators, even with a warrant?


  • Howard W. Cox, Adjunct Professor, George Washington University
  • Prof. Brian L. Owsley, Assistant Professor of Law, UNT Dallas College of Law

United States v. Bryant - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 7-12-16 featuring Thomas F. Gede
Thomas F. Gede July 12, 2016

On June 13, 2016, the Supreme Court decided United States v. Bryant. Michael Bryant, Jr., has multiple tribal-court convictions for domestic assault. For most of those convictions he was sentenced to terms of imprisonment, none of them exceeding one year’s duration. He did not have the benefit of counsel with respect to these convictions, though they complied with the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA). Having made further domestic assaults in 2011, Bryant was charged with violating 18 U.S.C. §117(a), which makes it a federal crime for any person to “commi[t] a domestic assault within...Indian country” if the person has at least two prior final convictions for domestic violence rendered “in Federal, State, or Indian tribal court proceedings.” He argued that the Sixth Amendment precluded use of his prior, uncounseled, tribal-court misdemeanor convictions to satisfy §117(a)’s predicate-offense element. Although the district court rejected Bryant’s argument the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with him, vacating his conviction and directing dismissal of the indictment. 

By a vote of 8-0, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and remanded the case. Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court, which held that because Bryant’s tribal-court convictions occurred in proceedings that complied with ICRA and were therefore valid when entered, use of those convictions as predicate offenses in a §117(a) prosecution does not violate the Constitution. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion.

To discuss the case, we have Thomas F. Gede, who is Principal at Morgan Lewis Consulting LLC and of counsel at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP.

United States v. Texas - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 7-12-16 featuring Josh Blackman
Josh Blackman July 12, 2016

On June 23, 2016, the Supreme Court decided United States v. Texas. This case relates back to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which set forth special criteria to direct how DHS should exercise prosecutorial discretion in enforcing federal immigration laws against certain young persons. In 2014, DHS issued a memo that then expanded eligibility under DACA and directed establishment of a similar program for the parents of DACA-eligible persons: Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).

Twenty-six states sued in federal district court to prevent the DHS from implementing DAPA, arguing that DAPA violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) because it had not gone through a notice-and-comment process, and was moreover arbitrary and capricious. The states also argued that DAPA abrogated the President’s constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” The district court concluded that of the suing states, Texas had standing, and temporarily enjoined implementation of DAPA after determining that Texas had shown a substantial likelihood of success on its notice-and-comment claim. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed that ruling, and further held that the other states had standing and has shown a substantial likelihood of success on both the notice-and-comment and arbitrary and capricious components of their APA claims. The Fifth Circuit did not reach the Take Care clause claim.

The four questions before the Supreme Court in this case were: (1) whether a state that voluntarily provides a subsidy to all aliens with deferred action has Article III standing and a justiciable cause of action under the APA to challenge the Secretary of Homeland Security’s guidance seeking to establish a process for considering deferred action for certain aliens because it will lead to more aliens having deferred action; (2) whether the guidance is arbitrary and capricious or otherwise not in accordance with law; (3) whether the guidance was subject to the APA’s notice-and-comment procedures; and (4) whether the guidance violates the Take Care Clause of the Constitution, Article II, section 3--a question the Court itself directed the parties to brief.

An equally divided Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Fifth Circuit in a single sentence per curiam opinion, thereby leaving the district court’s injunction in place

To discuss the case, we have Josh Blackman, who is Assistant Professor of Law at South Texas College of Law.

Fisher v. Univ. of Texas at Austin - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 7-12-16 featuring Roger Clegg
Roger B. Clegg July 12, 2016

On June 23, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Fisher v. Univ. of Texas at Austin. This is the second time the case has come before the high court. Abigail Fisher, a white female, applied for admission to the University of Texas at Austin (the University) but was denied. Fisher sued the University and argued that the use of race as a consideration in the admissions process violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court held that the University’s admissions process was constitutional, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. The case went to the Supreme Court (Fisher I), which held that the appellate court erred in how it applied the strict scrutiny standard, improperly deferring to the University’s good faith in its use of racial classifications. On remand the Fifth Circuit again ruled in favor of the University, deeming its use of race in the admissions process narrowly tailored to a legitimate interest in achieving “the rich diversity that contributes to its academic mission.”

On its second trip to the Supreme Court, the question was whether the Fifth Circuit’s re-endorsement of the University’s use of racial preferences could be sustained under the Equal Protection Clause. By a vote of 4-3, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Fifth Circuit. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the court, which held that the race-conscious admissions program in use at the time of Fisher’s application was narrowly tailored and lawful under the Equal Protection Clause. Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion. Justice Alito also filed a dissenting opinion, in which Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas joined. Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

To discuss the case, we have Roger B. Clegg, who is President and General Counsel, Center for Equal Opportunity.