Strip Searching is IN Sexting is OUT

Apparently strip searching is IN and sexting is OUT. Students take heed: adult school administrators have the Constitutional right to force you to remove your bra, panties and boxers anytime for almost any reason, but if you take a cell phone picture of it, you can be charged with producing child pornography with a ten year mandatory minimum in the federal pen.

Yesterday the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in a case we’ve been following since last summer, Safford Unified School District v. Redding, No. 08-479. Early indications are that the Court will follow its traditional pattern in cases involving schools and drugs by giving school officials broad discretion in their supervisory role over students.

Justice David Souter indicated that law and order must prevail when he said at one point, “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 to have some other kids dead because the stuff is distributed at lunchtime and things go awry.”

The school district’s lawyer Matthew Wright argued that “searching any place where she might be reasonably hiding that contraband was constitutionally permissible” because of the schools’ primary role in keeping students safe. “It’s not like a criminal issue where they’re trying to prosecute. This is a case where they’re trying to protect,” Wright said. “It is best for this Court to defer to their judgment . . . and not second-guess those rules.”

But Souter, noting that the drug in question in the search of middle school student Savanna Redding was only ibuprofen, surmised, “At some point it gets silly, Having an aspirin tablet does not present a health and safety risk.”

And Justice Antonin Scalia asked if, under Wright’s logic, authorities would be justified in conducting a prison-style body cavity search of students.

At first Wright rejected the suggestion. “That is something the Court can clearly say is off-limits” in part because school officials are not trained to conduct such searches. But in the end he conceded that legally speaking, “I could see that result,” though he said local school boards would not allow body cavity searches.

Given this logic, it won’t be long before the National School Boards Association will be crafting model rules for student strip searches and the American Association of School Administrators will be training staff on how to conduct “prison-style” body cavity searches.

Just remember kids, when someone appears from the principal’s office trying to protect you, you better put down your cell phone and take off your clothes. The Constitution requires no less.

The Court’s decision is expected by this summer.

2 Replies to "Strip Searching is IN Sexting is OUT"

  • Mc Brandon
    April 22, 2009 (10:52 pm)

    This is infuriating. I wish that this story was getting even more press. Why don’t they conduct airport style security searches at the beginning of every school day? Because its too expensive. But it’s not too expensive to strip search a little girl. These school administrators sound like the real danger in this case.

  • James R. Marsh
    April 23, 2009 (10:57 am)

    Great article and a similar perspective on this case in Slate:

    When constitutional historians sit down someday to compile the definitive Supreme Court Concordance of Not Getting It, the entry directly next to Lilly Ledbetter (“Court fails utterly to understand realities of gender pay discrimination”) will be Savana Redding (“Court compares strip searches of 13-year-old girls to American Pie-style locker-room hijinks”). After today’s argument, it’s plain the court will overturn a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion finding a school’s decision to strip-search a 13-year-old girl unconstitutional. That the school in question was looking for a prescription pill with the mind-altering force of a pair of Advil—and couldn’t be bothered to call the child’s mother first—hardly matters.
    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.”

    Go to Slate for the complete article . . .