Hotel-record inspection law tossed out by U.S. Supreme Court

A divided U.S. Supreme Court threw out a Los Angeles ordinance that lets police inspect hotel registries without first getting a judge’s permission. The ruling raises questions about hundreds of similar laws around the country.

Laws allowing police inspections of hotel registries are in place in Indianapolis, Atlanta, Detroit, Seattle, St. Louis and Cincinnati. California alone has 70 such measures, including laws in San Diego and San Francisco, according to a court filing by the National League of Cities.

Voting 5-4, the justices sided with hotel owners who said the law violates their constitutional right against unreasonable searches. The majority faulted the law for not giving hotel owners the chance to go in front of a judge before having to comply.

“A hotel owner who refuses to give an officer access to his or her registry can be arrested on the spot,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the majority. “The court has held that business owners cannot reasonably be put to this kind of choice.”

Los Angeles officials said the measure deters drug trafficking and prostitution by prodding hotels and motels to comply with requirements that they register all guests.

In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that “such a limited inspection of a guest register is eminently reasonable under the circumstances.”

The case divided the court along ideological lines. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito joined Scalia in dissent.

Los Angeles requires hotels and motels to record information about their guests, including name, address and license-plate number. A version of the ordinance has been in effect for 100 years.


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