First Edition: 2011-12, Resources & Submissions

What is  “The Citizen Amicus Project”?


In an effort to engage law students in the work of the American Bar Association, this year’s Law Student Activities Committee will launch the first phase of the “Citizen Amicus Project” focused on the Fourth Amendment.

The Citizen Amicus Project invites students to educate themselves and contribute opinions about ongoing Supreme Court cases.  Similar to formal amicus briefs, the Citizen Amicus Project seeks input from interested parties to help resolve constitutional issues.  The goal is to provide a focused and discrete opportunity for law students to contribute to a national legal question that affects law students.  These views will not be formally filed with the Supreme Court, but will be posted in a publically available website.  These views are not the views of the American Bar Association or the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association, but solely the opinion of the contributing students. 

The Project:

Every year a Supreme Court case will be chosen as the focus of the Project.  The legal briefs and arguments on this case will be available on the ABA Law Student Activities Committee website.  Law students will be encouraged to access the ABA website and submit their views on the legal question.  Law professors will be encouraged to discuss and frame the question as part of a criminal justice oriented curriculum. 

The Project will be a web-based/social media-based collection of law student opinions on a specific legal issue.  The submitted student opinions will be reviewed by the Co-Directors of the Law Students Activities Committee and then published in a publically accessible collection of “citizen amicus” opinions.  The result will be a collection of brief legal statements helpful to the Supreme Court and the general public.  The opinions will obviously be the personal opinions of the student contributors, and not the ABA.  The opinions will be accessible to the Supreme Court and all other citizens, but will not be formally filed as amicus.

Why the Fourth Amendment?

This first iteration of the Citizen Amicus Project focuses on the Fourth Amendment.  We chose this subject because under current doctrine many of the determinations turn on what society considers objectively “reasonable.”  What is objectively reasonable, of course, is a contested issue, and we believe law students can weigh in on this standard as well as any other subset of Americans.

More specifically, the Supreme Court has stated that the touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness.   “A reasonable expectation of privacy” exists as the threshold test for whether or not there has been a Fourth Amendment search.  To determine whether an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy, the Supreme Court has established a “twofold requirement, first that a person have exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy and, second, that the expectation be one that society is prepared to recognize as "reasonable."[1]  It is this latter question of “what society is prepared to recognize as reasonable” that frames many Fourth Amendment questions and our initial project.

The Citizen Amicus Project provides an opportunity to debate this central question about an objective expectation of privacy.  With questions of personal privacy, police surveillance, and emerging technologies regularly at issue before the Supreme Court, the question of what society is prepared to accept as reasonable requires more inputs from ordinary citizens. 

What is the 2011-2012 Project?  

The 2011-2012 Project focuses on the Fourth Amendment questions arising out of warrantless GPS surveillance.  Almost all law students own cell phones, computers, and GPS devices that can be tracked and, thus, personally can understand the liberty interests at stake in warrantless tracking. 

This term the Supreme Court will hear United States v. Jones a case that raises questions of whether warrantless GPS tracking violates the Fourth Amendment.  In Jones, the Supreme Court will review two specific questions:

1.     Whether the warrantless use of a tracking device on Jones' vehicle to monitor its movements on public streets violated the Fourth Amendment, and

2.     Whether the government violated Jones' Fourth Amendment rights by installing the GPS tracking device on his vehicle without a valid warrant and without his consent.

We believe this case has national interest and national implications and will be of concern to students (and law professors teaching criminal procedure).  A central legal question will be whether or not the use of the tracking device violated a reasonable expectation of privacy.  The Supreme Court will have to determine what society is prepared to recognize as reasonable.  We believe law students will have valuable insight to this question about the objective expectation of privacy. 

[1] See Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967) (Harlan, J. concurring)



The opinions presented in the Citizen Amicus Project do not represent the position or opinion of the American Bar Association or the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section.  The opinions are the personal views of the students contributing to this educational project about constitutional law.