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When Stupid Attacks With Pantysniffers' Help

Sarah's picture

So a 13-year-old honor student goes to school one day, and her classmate gets busted for having ibuprofen. Classmate fingers the honor student as having supplied the pills ... and the girl ends up strip-searched. Lawsuit ensues, with the aid of the ACLU. The US Supreme Court justices don't seem to care as much about the Constitution and Bill of Rights as about the kiddie-porn imagery, though.

"So if you have a reasonable suspicion that the student has drugs and you search every other place (and don't find any drugs) ... don't you have (a) reasonable suspicion that she has drugs in her underpants?" (USSC Justice Antonin) Scalia asked (during yesterday's oral arguments).

"No," (David O'Neil, assistant to the Solicitor General arguing on independent grounds for reversal) O'Neil said.

"Your logic fails me," Scalia said.

The search followed an unsupported accusation -- and the student who made it didn't say the student being searched currently had possession of ibuprofen, just that the pills the caught student had were received from that student previously. The student searched didn't have a history of discipline problems.

While Justice David Souter seemed to think this level of intrusive search excessive for possession of a common painkiller, Chief Justice Roberts apparently doubted that limits on searches of students and their clothes could ever be a good thing


Adam B. Wolf, an attorney for the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project in Santa Cruz, Calif., represented the student.

He argued that, in addition to the government's proffered location-specific standard, school officials need "a greater degree of suspicion to conduct a strip search than to conduct an ordinary backpack search."

When Wolf noted that strip searching students can have psychological effects, Souter again spoke up.

"My thought process is I would rather have the kid embarrassed by a strip search, if we can't find anything short of that, than ... have some other kids dead because the stuff is distributed at lunchtime and things go awry," Souter said.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. wondered how far his rule could go.

"Are you saying it's unreasonable to take off the outer garments even if your reasonable suspicion for justifying the preliminary search is that the student has heroin?"

"Without any location-specific information, that's correct," Wolf said. "And anything else would send a shudder down the spines of little boys and girls around this country."

How many parents would react positively to this treatment of their daughters? Athenae and a Dkos poster both consider this insane, given that if anybody other than a school principal had strip-searched a 13-year-old it'd mean a call to CPS at the least and a lifelong record as a sex offender for the searcher. So I'm with them. How come it's okay for school authorities to treat a young woman in this humiliating manner?

The ACLU represents Savana Redding, who was strip-searched by school officials when she was 13 years old based on the uncorroborated accusation of a fellow student who had been found with prescription strength ibuprofen (equivalent to two Advils) that she had received the pills from Savana at some unspecified time and place. After being told to remove her pants and shirt by school officials, Savana was then told to lift her panties and bra, exposing her breasts and pelvic area. The search confirmed what Savana had already told school officials: she did not have any pills in her possession. The case raises two questions, both of which were resolved in Savana's favor by the lower court. First, was the strip search unconstitutional? Second, was it so clearly unconstitutional that Savana is entitled to recover damages for the invasion of her personal privacy? Among other things, the ACLU brief argues that school officials should be required to have more evidence of wrongdoing to strip-search a student than to search her backpack.

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Submitted by lambert on

Why stop at the panties? Isn't that where Scalia's logic leads?

(And remind me again why the current Court is legitimate? It exists in its current form only Fat Tony, with Bush v. Gore, helped enable Bush to steal election 2000.)

a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

Is this one of those zero-tolerance things? I still haven't gotten over that part.

But, oh, yeah, what Lambert said. Cheez. Where does it end?

As a parent, whose child is (hurrah!) no longer a minor, I'm way beyond shocked and appalled. I had no idea this kind of thing went on in schools anywhere.

Sadly, I'm less shocked that Scalia seemed to think it was OK.

[Sarah, your first link leads back to this page.]

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

should go to First Draft.

Yes, it's zero-tolerance. FWIW in my experience even if the kid's 18 they'll use this rule on 'em -- they did on my oldest at the start of his senior year.

zuzu's picture
Submitted by zuzu on

Having done some strip-search litigation, I know that based on the facts in this case, the strip search (even a partial one) wouldn't have passed constitutional muster in the 2d Circuit (and this case comes from the 9th, which has a lot of similar rules) if she had been in *police* custody. Unfortunately, there have been some cases which indicate that minors have far less right to privacy than adults, at least in terms of their possessions while on school property.

I wouldn't read too much into the Justices' statements during oral argument, though. A lot of that is just challenging the lawyers' arguments. Like the guy who was getting questioned by Scalia didn't pick up on the "reasonable suspicion" thing. In the cases I'm familiar with, the suspicion has to be *particularized* and not just "reasonable" ("reasonable" justifies a stop-and-frisk, but not a more invasive search). When the guy just flat-out said no, he asked for his logic.

As for Souter, he was throwing out a common justification for these kinds of measures, but that doesn't mean he actually believes what he said. He may be asking the lawyer to respond to such an argument. It's hard to tell from this article.

Submitted by jawbone on

berg's description of tone and selection of quotes -- which might mean I did not get the actual flavor of the colloquy. Seems the boiz were making light of a 12-13 year old girl having to strip down in front of adults, hold our her bra and shake it, do some action to shake the crotch of her panties. It made me shudder, then feel an amazing sense of rage that these educated, powerful men would speak so cavalierly of such circumstances. The sole woman justice had to call them on this.

Audio available.

I found myself wondering if some of the justices actually wanted to create such ridiculous conditions in public schools that more and more parents would decide to not subject their children to such things. More private schooling, more home schooling, and fewer students in public schools.

I was personally aghast at the attitudes exhibited by the SCOTUS boiz, both center and consrvative. Good grief!!!

Damon's picture
Submitted by Damon on

What did you mean that Souter seemed to think this excessive, Sarah? The quote seems to say exactly the opposite:

"My thought process is I would rather have the kid embarrassed by a strip search, if we can't find anything short of that, than ... have some other kids dead because the stuff is distributed at lunchtime and things go awry," Souter said.

Souter is basically with Scalia's reasoning, if I'm reading this correctly.

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

By terming it "embarassing". A strip search is more than embarassing, it is definitely humiliating, and for a large chunk of young women, has the potential to be a trigger of past trauma.

So I'm really not giving Souter the benefit of the doubt here.

I mean if this* had happened to me, when I was 13 years old, the traumas it would have brought back to me, the day probably would have ended with a couple of injured school administrators and me in a psychiatric ward for a little vacation.

*And by "this", I mean a bunch of adults standing around telling me to take my clothes off.

Damon's picture
Submitted by Damon on

God, I hope he was kidding. Justices can be quite unpredictable.