University of Chicago Law Review

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The meaning of the rights enshrined in the Constitution provides a critical baseline for understanding the limits of government action—perhaps nowhere more so than in regard to the Fourth Amendment. At the time it was adopted, the Fourth Amendment prohibited the government from entering into any home, warehouse, or place of business against the owner's wishes to search for or to seize persons, papers, or effects, absent a specific warrant. Consistent with English common law, the notable exception was when law enforcement or citizens were pursuing a known felon. Outside of such circumstances, search and seizure required government officials to approach a magistrate and, under oath, to provide evidence of the suspected offense and to particularly describe the place to be searched and persons or things to be seized. Scholars' insistence that the Fourth Amendment does not entail a general protection against government entry into the home without a warrant does more than just fail to appreciate the context. It contradicts the meaning of the text itself, which carefully lays out the conditions that must be met before the government may intrude. Reclaiming this meaning is essential for understanding the scope of the original Fourth Amendment and for ensuring a doctrine that reflects fidelity to the founding principles.