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The authority to make warrantless administrative searches devolves almost unbridled discretion upon executive and administrative officers, particularly those in the field, as to when to search and whom to search. A warrant, by contrast, would provide assurances from a neutral officer that the inspection is reasonable under the United States Constitution, is authorized by statute, and is pursuant to an administrative plan containing specific neutral criteria. Also, a warrant would then and there advise the owner of the scope and objects of the search, beyond which limits the inspector is not expected to proceed. These are important functions for a warrant to perform, functions which underlie the United States Supreme Court's decisions that the Warrant Clause applies to inspections for compliance with regulatory statutes.
After appellee businessman refused to permit an inspector from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to conduct a warrantless search of his business premises pursuant to 8(a) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (29 USCS 657(a)), which empowered agents of the Secretary of Labor to search the work area of any employment facility within the Act's jurisdiction in order to inspect for safety hazards and regulatory violations, the Secretary petitioned the United States District Court for the District of Idaho for an order compelling admittance of the inspector. The requested order was issued, but the businessman again refused to permit the inspection, and sought injunctive relief against warrantless searches under the Act. Entering an injunction against searches and inspections pursuant to 8(a), the three-judge District Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment required a warrant for the type of search involved, and that the statutory authorization for warrantless inspections was unconstitutional. The Secretary challenged the judgment, contending that warrantless inspections were reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. He alleged that 29 U.S.C.S. § 657(a) authorized inspection of business premises without a search warrant.
Were warrantless inspections under 8(a) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (29 USCS 657(a)) reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment?
The Court affirmed the judgment of the district court, holding that the requirement of obtaining a search warrant was not overly burdensome on the inspection system or the courts and that it would provide assurances that the inspections were reasonable under the Constitution. However, the Court held that the Secretary was not prohibited from exercising the inspection authority conferred by 8(a) pursuant to regulations and judicial process satisfying the Fourth Amendment. According to the Court, the entitlement of the Secretary to inspect, under a warrant or other process, pursuant to 8(a) did not depend on his demonstrating probable cause to believe that conditions in violation of the Act existed on the premises but could be based on a showing that reasonable legislative or administrative standards for conducting an inspection were satisfied with respect to a particular establishment.