Purpose and Goals

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 or two 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 year 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. 

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