Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Reasonable Exceptions excavates and elaborates the rhetorical, contextual, and ideological underpinnings of the right to privacy. Originating in writing, as a single sentence drafted in 1791, the Fourth Amendment has been one of the most adaptable and unstable concepts in American culture. This project explores the fluctuating ways in which Americans have understood the rights it confers and connects to the ethics of rhetoric and writing practices in a variety of ways. It focus on three seminal Supreme Court opinions, examining their use of precedent and their strategic engagement with contemporaneous technological, social, and political changes: Katz v. United States (1967), United States v. Leon (1984), and United States v. Jones (2012). Revealing the right to privacy as a potent rhetorical construct, this dissertation shows how legal tropes and persuasive identifications alter our expectations of privacy and move subjects and publics, thereby offering a fresh way of understanding who is afforded this right—and who affords it in various written texts.

Chapter 1 lays the critical rhetorical and legal foundations for my analysis of the right to privacy and the related legal tropes and identifications in the Court’s written opinions. In Chapter 2, I argue that persuasive identifications in Katz redefined the right to privacy in terms of a ‘reasonable expectation’ in response to underlying cultural tensions during the civil rights movement and the proliferation of telephone booths in the 1960s. Chapter 3 exposes similar identifications in Leon where the Court’s identifies with a surrounding culture fixated on crime control and a bourgeoning war on drugs during the 1980s, which resulted in a ‘good faith’ exception that permitted courts to overlook Fourth Amendment violations. The next chapter investigates how the identifications in Jones transformed the ‘right to privacy’ once more by reframing it as an ‘information-gathering intrusion’ in the face of modern surveillance and communicative technologies and questions the impact on contemporary rhetorical subjects. Chapter 5 answers some of these questions by considering the new legal tropes and rhetorical identifications emerging out of recent decisions and predicting how our right to privacy might next be reshaped.



Committee Chair

Heifferon, Barbara

Available for download on Monday, March 03, 2025