The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a school’s strip search of an Arizona teenage girl accused of having prescription-strength ibuprofen was illegal.
In an 8-1 ruling, the justices said school officials violated the law with their search of Savana Redding in the rural eastern Arizona town of Safford.
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.”
And you may ask yourself: Why wasn’t this a 9-0 ruling? Who was the lone dissenter?
If you guessed Justice pubic-hair-on-a-Coke-can Thomas, you were right!
In a dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas found the search legal and said the court previously had given school officials “considerable leeway” under the Fourth Amendment in school settings.
Thomas warned that the majority’s decision could backfire. “Redding would not have been the first person to conceal pills in her undergarments,” he said. “Nor will she be the last after today’s decision, which announces the safest place to secrete contraband in school.”
So will Safford Middle School or Vice Principal Kerry Wilson be held liable for conducting the illegal search?
The court also ruled the officials cannot be held liable in a lawsuit for the search. Different judges around the nation have come to different conclusions about immunity for school officials in strip searches, which leads the Supreme Court to “counsel doubt that we were sufficiently clear in the prior statement of law,” Souter said.
“We think these differences of opinion from our own are substantial enough to require immunity for the school officials in this case,” Souter said.
The justices also said the lower courts would have to determine whether the Safford United School District No. 1 could be held liable.
There seems to be a whole lot of immunity being granted these days. Everyone seems to be following the examples set by the lawless members of the Bush Administration who, except for Scooter Libby, have not been held accountable for anything.
More about the SCOTUS decision here.