The final weeks of the semester have officially made me incapable of composing even simple links lists, so the blog post ideas are piling up. But in an hour between classes in which to occupy myself catching up on my rss feeds, this post by fellow West Michigan feminist Rita tipped me off to Dahlia Lithwick’s recent column on Redding v. Safford Unified School District, Search Me: The Supreme Court is neither hot nor bothered about strip searches.
Now, I am an amateur SCOTUS junkie who also happens (ahem) to be a feminist interested in children’s rights, women’s sexuality and embodiment. So when the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the legality of strip-searching a 13-year-old whose classmate had intimated she was in possession of (gasp!) ibuprofen, it’s like being handed an oreo cheesecake ice cream sundae. When Dahlia Lithwick weighs in with her very own account of the proceedings, it’s like adding fudge sauce, whipped cream, and graham cracker crumble to the top. To whit:
Editorialists and pundits have found much to hate in what happened to Savana Redding. Yet the court today finds much to admire. And even if you were never a 13-year-old girl yourself, if you have a daughter or niece, you might see the humiliation in pulling a middle-school honor student with no history of disciplinary problems out of class, based on an uncorroborated tip that she was handing out prescription ibuprofen. You might think it traumatic that she was forced to strip down to her underclothes and pull her bra and underwear out and shake them in front of two female school employees. No drugs were found. But even those justices lacking a daughter, a niece, or a uterus had access to an amicus brief in this case documenting the fact that student strip searches “can result in serious emotional damage” and that student victims of strip searches “often cannot concentrate in school, and, in many cases, transfer or even drop out.” Savana Redding, herself a data point, described the search as “the most humiliating experience” of her life. Then she dropped out of school. And five years later, at age 19, she gets to listen in on oral argument in Porky’s 3: The Supreme Court Says “Panties.”
. . .
Yet in recent years, the high court has slowly chipped away at the privacy rights of students—frequently based on the rationale that there were drugs!!! Somewhere in America!!! Drugs!!! Creating danger!!! (This led an annoyed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to dissent in a recent case that the court was peddling “nightmarish images of out-of-control flatware, livestock run amok, and colliding tubas” to justify drug tests for any student with a pulse. )
Today’s argument features an astounding colloquy between Matthew Wright, the school district’s lawyer, and Justice Antonin Scalia, who cannot understand why “black marker pencils” are also considered contraband. “Well, for sniffing!” answers Wright. “They sniff them?” asks Scalia, delightedly. “Really?”
. . .
Nobody but Ginsburg seems to comprehend that the only locker rooms in which teenage girls strut around, bored but fabulous in their underwear, are to be found in porno movies. For the rest of us, the middle-school locker room was a place for hastily removing our bras without taking off our T-shirts.
Her penultimate observation? “Evidently teenage nakedness is only a problem when the children choose to be naked.”
Dahlia Lithwick, I am yours forever.
Seriously. Go enjoy the whole thing.