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Michigan Legal Milestones
15. The Uninvited Ear

Judge Damon Keith's decision in a 1971 case upheld the right of Americans to be free from unreasonable government intrusion. Dedicated and placed inside the Penobscot Building in Detroit on December 18, 1991.

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The Uninvited Ear

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures by their government. That protection was upheld against government challenge in a 1971 decision of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, sitting in Detroit.

The U. S. Department of Justice, without first obtaining judicial approval, wiretapped conversations involving a suspect in the bombing of a CIA office in Ann Arbor. When challenged, the Justice Department argued that domestic national security concerns required the executive branch of the federal government, through the attorney general, to order such wiretaps without prior judicial approval.

Federal District Court Judge Damon Keith rejected that argument, citing the Fourth Amendment protection of "a defendant from the evil of the uninvited ear." Referring to the attorney general's assertion of a power to decide where, when, and whom to wiretap, Judge Keith wrote that "such power held by one individual was never contemplated by the framers of our Constitution and cannot be tolerated today." The U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the case, with Detroit lawyer William T. Gossett defending Judge Keith's decision on a pro bono basis, and affirmed Judge Keith's decision.

The Fourth Amendment right of all citizens to be secure against unreasonable government intrusion had been upheld.

Placed by the State Bar of Michigan and the Detroit Bar Association, 1991.