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Searching Private Businesses and Other Property Without a Warrant

When the police or other Executive Branch officers conduct searches under civil and environmental statutes, settled Fourth Amendment jurisprudence provides them with substantially more constitutional authority to search private businesses without a search warrant than to so search private homes. The Supreme Court developed the jurisprudence allowing government officers to conduct a warrantless “administrative search” by construing two independent clauses of the Fourth Amendment: the Fourth Amendment protects the “persons, houses, papers, and effects” of the people from (1) “unreasonable searches and seizures” (“unreasonable search clause”) and (2) government overreaching pursuant to search warrants issued for less than traditional “probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” (“warrant clause”). 1 In construing these clauses, the Court has determined that they
both authorize and limit different searches under different circumstances.