Oral argument in garbage inspection case

April 15, 2016 | By ETHAN BLEVINS

This morning, Judge Beth Andrus held a hearing to determine whether inspections of Seattle residents’ garbage violates the Washington Constitution’s right to privacy. We relied on a Washington Supreme Court case that said government agents cannot sift through garbage cans without a warrant. That includes garbage collectors. They have an invitation to collect–not to inspect.

The City spent much of the argument trying to backpedal from the clear language of the law being challenged. That law says garbage collectors must engage in “visual inspection” to calculate whether food waste or recyclables make up more than ten percent of the volume of the garbage can by weight. The City said that garbage collectors only “glance” to determine compliance. Judge Andrus was skeptical. She asked how a passing “glance” could allow a garbage collector to figure out whether the food waste they see surpasses the ten percent volume threshold that the City has created. He had no answer.

We urged the Court to hold that deliberate inspection for specific items violates the right to privacy. Inadvertent discovery of prohibited items that a garbage collector happens upon in the course of their work might not violate the Washington Constitution; a deliberate hunt for pizza crusts and brussel sprouts surely does.

Judge Andrus said she will issue her ruling before April 30.