Supreme Court Justices Sometimes Make False Claims

ProPublica found seven factual errors in high court rulings of recent years. One of them involved a criminal case in which Justice Elena Kagan misstated a fact about certification of drug-sniffing dogs.

A review of several dozen Supreme Court opinions in recent years uncovered a number of false or wholly unsupported factual claims, reports ProPublica. The website found seven errors in a modest sampling of Supreme Court opinions issued from 2011 through 2015. In some cases, the errors were introduced by individual justices apparently doing their own research. In others, the errors resulted from false or deeply flawed submissions made to the court by people or organizations seeking to persuade the justices to rule one way or the other.

Some of the cases involved criminal law. In 2013, the court issued a unanimous ruling in a case involving Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches by the police. The court said that when a drug-sniffing dog signals it smells an illegal drug from outside of a car, police have probable cause to search the entire car without a warrant. Justice Elena Kagan argued that the risk of “false positives” — instances in which a dog might mistakenly identify the presence of drugs — should be based on whether the dogs had been formally certified by police groups as reliable. She cited material from the Scientific Working Group on Dog and Orthogonal Detector Guidelines to support the court’s position. However, none of the largest certification groups test for the risk of false positives. ProPublica reviewed standards and testing records and interviewed several experts on drug-sniffing dogs, including the head of the working group Kagan cited. He said her confidence in the certification process was misplaced. “It’s important that it’s not just taken at face value to say just because the dog’s certified with a national organization that means they’re reliable,” said Kenneth Furton, the chairman of the working group, who is provost at Florida International University.