Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

David Culbert


This dissertation discusses a modern version of a constitutional struggle which has characterized American democracy since the first days of the Republic: the citizen's right to privacy versus the Government's need to guarantee "national security." It addresses the Supreme Court's landmark Fourth Amendment wiretapping decision of June 1972, U.S. v. U.S. District Court, which ruled unconstitutional the so-called "Mitchell Doctrine", the Nixon Administration's attempt to gain Judicial sanction for "national security" wiretaps without prior court order of suspected "domestic subversive" groups. In its unanimous Keith decision, the Court upheld the "primacy of warrants" in domestic intelligence investigations. Keith remains the citizen's primary protection against the "uninvited ear" of Government eavesdroppers. This study locates the origins of the Mitchell Doctrine in the Cold War struggle between the Executive Branch, which claimed expansive "national security" wiretapping powers, and the Judicial and Legislative Branches, which established "barriers" limiting the executive's domestic intelligence powers in response to revelations of surveillance abuses during the 1960s. The Mitchell Doctrine represented the Nixon Administration's attempt to circumvent these "barriers" by taking advantage of escalating societal fears about social disorder. This dissertation also examines the polarization of American society during the 1960s, through an analysis of the history of the White Panther Party of Ann Arbor, Michigan, a radical counterculture group whose inflammatory rhetoric led to considerable police and FBI surveillance. A model is proposed for future historical analysis of the clash between the "movement" and the "conservative establishment" during the sixties, focusing on the effects of a widening "perception-reality gap" at both ends of the political spectrum. This study concludes by analyzing cycles of wiretapping "reform" since the Keith decision. Concerns about Government surveillance during the Watergate era resulted in the establishment of numerous reforms. However, the 1980s saw a partial dismantling of reforms, renewing the possibility of future domestic intelligence abuses. Recent "terrorist" bombings have resulted in draconian wiretapping proposals from both the Clinton Administration and the Republican-controlled 104th Congress, which, if enacted, would erode the citizen' s right to privacy in the interest of domestic security.