Speaking of teens, schools, and power relationships . . .
This morning, the United States Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of Savana Redding, a young woman who was strip-searched at her middle school after being accused by a fellow student of being in possession of over-the-counter ibuprofen (which were banned by school regulation).
Redding, who now attends college, was 13 when officials at Safford Middle School ordered her to remove her clothes and shake out her underwear because they were looking for pills — the equivalent of two Advils. The district bans prescription and over-the-counter drugs and the school was acting on a tip from another student.
“What was missing from the suspected facts that pointed to Savana was any indication of danger to the students from the power of the drugs or their quantity, and any reason to suppose that Savana was carrying pills in her underwear,” Justice David Souter wrote in the majority opinion. “We think that the combination of these deficiencies was fatal to finding the search reasonable.”
Earlier this year, I posted a link to Dahlia Lithwick’s column following the oral arguments . . . I look forward to any further thoughts she might have in the wake of this decision.
Nothing too original to say about this, except that I'm very happy that this case was decided the way that it was, and do wish that Justice Thomas had joined in the majority to make it unanimous.
While I understand his concerns about not wanting the courts to be in the business of second-guessing each and every search (police, administrative, scholastic, etc), that hardly means that there can be no inquiry into the reasonableness of that search. We understand that shop keepers, who are allowed to detain customers suspected of shoplifting, may not strip-search their detainees. School administrators can and should be held to a similar standard. More importantly, it is their job to understand the psyches of the people in their care. That a 13-year-old girl would find a strip-search to be humiliating and degrading should be obvious.
Back to our discussion about kissing, etc on school property: if school officials are allowed to strip-search students, there is precious little justification for various rules and traditions that protect the privacy and modesty of students (private stalls in locker rooms, giving hall passes to girls so that they can take care of their hygiene without informing their teacher that they have their periods, etc).
Given that one of the big issues in airport security (and Fourth Amendment/privacy law) is the use of X-ray photoimaging to see beneath passenger clothing, I'm doubly excited about this decision: the Supreme Court seems to be saying that we aren't allow the government to require citizens to be without clothing. They can find other ways to do their jobs.