Trump and Obama justices condemn actions of Vermont state employees

By David Flemming

One Trump Supreme Court appointee joined two Obama Supreme Court appointees in condemning the actions of Vermont state employees, suggesting that the rule of law can overcome the partisan divide.

In November 2017, Vermont game wardens received a report that Clyde Bovat of Hinesburg had hunted deer illegally at night. “After arriving at Bovat’s property, they looked through the window of his garage and saw deer hair on his truck and other evidence of illegal hunting. The wardens then got a search warrant for the garage,” the Associated Press reports.

Courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture

The U.S. Supreme Court

Bovat tried to suppress the evidence on the grounds that it violated his Fourth Amendment rights. For a refresher, the Fourth Amendment reads, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Bovat was convicted in 2018, lost his hunting license for three years and was fined $607. In the fall of 2019, the Vermont Supreme Court upheld Bovat’s conviction, “ruling the wardens had the right to be in his driveway and the garage window was in plain view.”

But three Supreme Court Justices had strong words for the actions of these state officials. “The Fourth Amendment hardly tolerates the sort of meandering search that took place here,” said Neil Gorsuch, who was nominated by President Trump in 2017. “The wardens violated the Constitution, and the warrant they received premised on the fruits of their unlawful search was thus tainted.” Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan (both nominated by President Obama) joined Gorsuch in condemning the Vermont game wardens.

The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife said it would review “how its game wardens conduct searches.” But Department Commissioner Louis Porter didn’t sound chastened when he noted that the full nine-member Supreme Court declined to hear the case and the illegal hunting conviction stands.

That brush off should not diminish the condemnation of three justices. The Supreme Court only accepts 100-150 cases out the 7,000 requests it receives each year (1-2%), and most of those 7,000 never receive even a sentence of opinion.

The Fourth Amendment is not something Vermont state employees should trifle with, and they were close to receiving a legally binding scolding.

In a world of partisan bickering, it is refreshing to know that the representatives of the judicial branch of government can get together to issue such a statement, no matter how brief. Indeed, in the Supreme Court’s most recent term, which ran from October 2019 to June 2020, the court ruled 9-0, 8-1, or 7-2 66% of the time. Only 14 cases (23%) were decided 5-4. In today’s hyper partisan world, the Supreme Court has a rule of consensus, with disagreement being the exception. In the event that the presidential election could be decided by the Supreme Court, we can remain hopeful that the Court will rise above politics.

You can the read the full Bovat saga here.

David Flemming is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.

Image courtesy of (Wikimedia Commons/Public domain)

7 thoughts on “Trump and Obama justices condemn actions of Vermont state employees

  1. What a terrible situation.

    Down in Massachusetts they are letting drug dealers off (Judge Feeley) because “They are just selling drugs to feed their families”
    They are allowing them to openly steal food to feed their families..

    And in Vermont someone kills a deer to eat and this happens to him?
    I think this is pretty bad.
    Should he sell drugs or rob a house instead? because this right here is the position that a lot of people are now in.

    I’m not saying that people should all be out there killing deer illegally, but I do think that the mans situation should have been considered.
    I mean they are letting serious criminals out of jail these days- afterall, this looks pretty minor in the grand scheme of things.

  2. If I became jobless, and money was running out, and I needed to feed my family, I would do what I had to do to feed them and I would not condemn anyone else who had to do it to survive. Someone who just takes deer out of season, without a license, or at night just for the sake of antlers deserves everything that law enforcement has to offer.

  3. The Wardens made a “score”, perhaps for bragging rights, among their fellow wardens.

    No the guy shouldn’t hunt deer illegally either

  4. “The wardens violated the Constitution, and the warrant they received premised on the fruits of their unlawful search was thus tainted.”

    As such the conviction should be vacated against Bovat. Vermont law enforcement of all stripes have to learn to live by the Constitution,as it is supposed to be the law of the land for all, including law enforcement.

    • When the legislative supermajority treat our Constitution with contempt, is it any wonder that other state agencies have no issue doing the same?

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