Hi-Phi Nation

Police Discretion

The history and ethics of police power from SCOTUS to John Rawls.


Episode Notes

Is a mobile home a home or a car? Is a car parked inside a home part of the home? The answers to these stoner philosophical questions determine the scope of police power. Over the last 100 years, the Supreme Court has presided over the expansion of police discretionary powers to stop, search, and arrest people through litigation over automobiles. This week, we look at the stories of those decisions, including Carroll v. United States, United States v. Ross, and Whren v. United States. Then, we turn to the political morality of police discretion and why John Rawls’ test of public reason places far more constraints on law enforcement than the Supreme Court ever would. We investigate the consequences of public reason tests for targeted policing and racial profiling as well as consider whether police should have the power to overrule democratically-elected criminal laws. Guest voices include University of Iowa law professor Sara Seo, former Burlington, Vt. chief of police Brandon del Pozo, and archival audio from SCOTUS.

In Slate Plus: Sarah Lustbader, senior contributor to the Appeal and senior legal counsel for the Justice Collaborative, and Barry talk about how to implement the test of public reason for policing. They also discuss how the existing system has judges and prosecutors presume that arrest is the default rightful response to lawbreaking, rather than being a default wrongful response for malum prohibitum crimes.

For all back episodes from Seasons 13 of Hi-Phi Nation, visit www.hiphination.org

Email: hiphination@slate.com

Slate Plus Member Content Bonus Episode

The Test of Public Reason

How to implement the test of public reason for policing and more.


About the Show

Hi-Phi Nation is philosophy in story form, integrating narrative journalism with big ideas. We look at stories from everyday life, law, science, popular culture, and strange corners of human experiences that raise thought-provoking questions about things like justice, knowledge, the self, morality, and existence. We then seek answers with the help of academics and philosophers. The show is produced and hosted by Barry Lam of Vassar College.

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  • Barry Lam is the host and producer of the Hi-Phi Nation podcast and is an associate professor of philosophy at Vassar College.