Justice Scalia’s opinion was forcefully denounced as an
unjustified obstacle to law enforcement in dissenting opinions by
Associate Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Lewis F. Powell Jr.
Chief Justice Rehnquist joined in both of the dissents.
Justice Scalia, however, said, “There is nothing new in the
realization that the Constitution sometimes insulates the
criminality of a few in order to protect the privacy of us
Justice Scalia’s majority opinion today said that although the
search for weapons was lawful — a shot had just been fired through
the floor of the apartment, injuring a man below — the police were
not justified in moving the stereo components even slightly to
check the serial numbers without “probable cause” to believe they
were stolen. He thus affirmed a ruling by an Arizona appellate
court that the stereo components, which turned out to have been
stolen in an armed robbery, could not be used as evidence against
the occupant of the apartment.
Associate Justice William J. Brennan Jr., the Court’s senior
member, who is its leading liberal, apparently assigned Justice
Scalia to write the majority opinion, which he joined. Under the
Supreme Court’s procedures, the Chief Justice assigns opinions
when he is in the majority. When the Chief Justice dissents, as
in the Arizona case, the senior member of the majority has
Conservative judges, as a general rule, tend to side with law enforcement in search and seizure cases. Scalia was certainly a conservative, but by no means was he in lockstep with them.