Pennsylvania has won a legal battle to overturn a law that made it illegal for residents to use electronic devices while inside their homes.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state on Monday, a day after the state Supreme Court denied the state’s request to overturn the law, saying it violates the Fourth Amendment.
“It’s not only a matter of privacy rights.
It’s also a matter about health, safety, and well-being,” Justice Robert W. Bennett wrote for the majority in a unanimous opinion.
The law, signed by Democratic Gov.
Tom Wolf in January, made it a misdemeanor to intentionally open a door, but the justices did not go as far as to rule on whether it violated the Fourth or Fifth Amendments, or if the law should have been made a felony.
In an opinion joined by Justice Stephen A. Thomas, the court said the Pennsylvania law “is not merely a prohibition against opening a door” but instead “is a restriction on the ability of the public to use public spaces to interact with the public, including the electronic devices they are using.”
The justices also said the law violated the Constitution’s “anti-arbitrary rule of reason” because it bars people from engaging in public activity when the law is not in place.
The court, in a ruling issued the same day, said that while the public has the right to “walk, use, and leave private property,” that does not mean it has the same right to open a private door and enter without being subject to the laws of the surrounding area.
The justices rejected the state attorney general’s claim that the law’s constitutionality is based on the public’s expectation of privacy.
“The public expectation of private property is one that is clearly legitimate, reasonable, and important to Pennsylvania,” Bennett wrote.
“To assert otherwise would be to ignore the legitimate and important interest in the public realm that exists when the people are at home.”
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Joseph M. Stinney, a retired appeals court justice, said the ruling “fails to consider the public interest in privacy and privacy-protected activities when it comes to open doorways.”
“The Court is clearly unaware of how the Constitution protects citizens from being intruded upon while they are in the privacy of their own homes,” Stinston wrote.
“This is a stunning failure of judicial discernment.
The ruling came a week after the Supreme Court upheld a similar law in Kentucky that has been criticized by civil rights groups for its lack of safeguards and privacy protections.
In Pennsylvania, the justices found the state failed to show the law had been enacted with sufficient safeguards to protect the privacy interests of people using the electronic device.
The appeals court also said that the justices were wrong to strike down the law because the law did not “violate the Constitution by prohibiting people from using their own private property in ways that might be considered illegal.”
The court found the Pennsylvania case was “a narrow, one-off” case and that the ruling did not impact other states that have similar laws, including Tennessee and Arizona.
Pennsylvania is one of five states that does have laws prohibiting people with electronic devices from entering the home while away from their homes without the approval of the homeowners association.
The state law, which has been challenged in court, has been struck down in other cases, including in Illinois and Kentucky.
The decision marks the latest legal victory for privacy advocates who have pushed to make the Fourth and Fifth Amendments more relevant to the digital age.
The Supreme Court has already ruled on the constitutionality of the Minnesota anti-spam law, a law passed by the Legislature in 2010 that was struck down by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2015.