Last week, the Supreme Court struck down a Los Angeles ordinance that allowed police to inspect hotel guest registries at any time, without a warrant. In the City of Los Angeles vs. Patel, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold an appeals court ruling that the law was a violation of hotel owners’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. The ordinance, which dates back to 1899, was designed to deter prostitution, sex trafficking, and drug trafficking in hotels and motels.
In his dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia painted a negative portrait of hotels and motels, describing them as “an obvious haven for those who trade in human misery.” Not only do they “provide housing to vulnerable transient populations,” these properties are also “a particularly attractive site for criminal activity ranging from drug dealing and prostitution to human trafficking,” he wrote. They offer “privacy and anonymity on the cheap,” have been “employed as prisons for migrants smuggled across the border and held for ransom,” and act as “rendezvous sites where child sex workers meet their clients on threat of violence from their procurers.”
In the majority decision, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that hotels are “not intrinsically dangerous,” therefore they should not be subject to this type of warrantless search.