Supreme Court throws out Los Angeles hotel registry search law

In a recent victory for hotel operations, the Supreme Court decided that it was unlawful for Los Angeles police officers to check hotel guest registries at motels and hotels without notice at any time.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Supreme Court came to a 5-4 ruling to disband the ordinance, citing it led to unreasonable searches. The city of Los Angeles alleged that a number of hotels and motels in the city have become sites for drug trafficking, drug dealing and prostitution, and wanted to reserve the right to perform spot checks on hotel registries. However, a number of motel owners brought a case to court claiming late-night spot checks were intrusive and disruptive for motel operations.

Bloomberg reported that Justice Sonia Sotomayor sided with the motel owners in deciding the ordinance was unconstitutional, but suggested local authorities could issue administrative subpoenas for the registers, though these could be challenged by a hotel before a "neutral decision maker." Meanwhile, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer wrote in a statement that he has a plan to fix the law.


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“We believe we can craft an ordinance, consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision, which enables the city to renew our efforts to combat human trafficking and other crimes associated with these motels,” Feuer said in a written statement.

Hotel Management originally broached the topic of warrantless hotel register searches in April, citing the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution's description of the right to privacy. 

In line with this, The Wall Street Journal reported that members of the Los Angeles Lodging Association claim their properties were being targeted by police for harassment. Meanwhile, Justice Antonin Scalia said the rule change could bring undue weakness to police inspections and their ability to deter crime in motels. Scalia cited the historically limited privacy rights of hotels. One example he raised was of a 1788 Massachusetts law "allowed tithingmen [officials] to search public houses of entertainment on every Sabbath without any sort of warrant.” He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas in dissent.

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