United States v. United States District Court Historic Case

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

February 1972

Case Description 

United States v. United States District Court, briefed and argued before the Supreme Court by CCR in February 1972, arose out of a federal conspiracy prosecution in which the government admitted wiretapping the defendant without a warrant.

In making that admission, however, the Justice Department took the position that the mere authorization to wiretap by the Attorney General in cases involving what the Justice Department described as matters of “domestic security” was sufficient and did not require a search warrant issued by a judge in order to be legal.

U.S. District Court Judge Damon Keith rejected the Justice Department’s claim, which would have amounted to carte blanche to engage in electronic surveillance; the government appealed his decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Here, too, the government’s claim was rejected, and the appeal was continued to the Supreme Court.

On June 19, 1972, the Supreme Court removed any doubt about the issue by unanimously rejecting the Justice Department’s Orwellian contention that it had the power to eavesdrop without any approval but its own.