Supreme Court Rules that Strip-Search of Student was Unconstitutional

Posted By Robert Bernstein || 1-Jul-2009

In a ruling that sets new limits on school searches, the U.S. Supreme Court held Thursday that a school official in Arizona violated the Fourth Amendment rights of a 13-year-old girl by strip-searching her for prescription-strength ibuprofen.

The court affirmed a March 2008 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, in which the court, sitting en banc, held that school officials violated the Forth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures when they strip-searched Arizona middle school student Savana Redding.

In an 8-1 decision, the court called this search degrading, unreasonable and unconstitutional.

Justice David H. Souter, in what could be his final opinion before his retirement, said a strip-search is "categorically distinct" from other efforts to find drugs or weapons on campus because it is embarrassing and humiliating to the children who are targeted.

In the past, the court has said school officials can search purses, backpacks or lockers if they have reason to believe a student has drugs. And twice, justices have upheld mandatory drug testing of high schoolers, including athletes, even when there was no reason to think any of them was using drugs. But requiring a student to remove her clothes goes too far, Souter said. He suggested such a search would be justified only if a school official had strong reason to believe a student was hiding a dangerous drug or a weapon in his or her underwear.

Souter agreed that the vice principal had reasonable grounds for questioning Savana about drugs and for searching her backpack. But he went much too far, Souter added.

Ginsburg, the court's only woman, said the vice principal's conduct was inexcusable. He had no real evidence to suspect Savana of wrongdoing: He did not contact her mother, and he made Savana sit in the office for several hours after the strip-search, she said.

Categories: Search & Seizure

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