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Supreme Court Rules Student Strip-Search Unconstitutional

The US Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the strip-search of 13-year old student Savana Redding at her Arizona public school was unconstitutional. Redding was accused by another student of having prescription-strength ibuprofen, a substance banned under the school’s drug policy. When Vice Principal Kerry Wilson found no pills in Redding’s outer clothes or backpack, he sent her to the nurse’s office where she was stripped down to her bra and underpants.

In an 8-1 decision, the Court ruled that Redding’s Fourth Amendment rights had been violated by the school officials that ordered the search. However, they declared that Wilson and other school officials involved in the search were immune from legal punishment. In his majority opinion (see PDF of all opinions), Justice David Souter reasoned that officials could not be held legally accountable because previous court decisions were unclear regarding the power granted to school administrators.

The lone dissenter, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the majority opinion placed an undue burden on school officials. Justices Ginsburg and Stevens dissented in part with the majority regarding the legal immunity granted to Wilson and other officials. In her opinion, Justice Ginsburg wrote, “Abuse of authority of that order should not be shielded by official immunity…Wilson’s treatment of Redding was abusive and it was not reasonable for him to believe that the law permitted it.”

The case has been remanded to a lower court to determine whether Safford Unified School District No. 1, the district in Arizona where the search occurred, can be found liable.

Sources:

New York Times 6/25/09, US Supreme Court 6/26/09, CNN 6/25/09