Strip Search at the Supreme Court

Thirteen-year-old Savana Redding of Safford, Arizona, was strip searched by middle school administrators, on a tip from another student who claimed she had contraband Advil hidden in her bra. Her lawyer argued to the Supreme Court this week that school officials violated the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches. School officials didn’t bother to search her desk or locker, or even question additional students before they made her strip down to her skivvies.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer revealed himself to be less than equipped to hear the case. From Dahlia Lithwick’s great Slate piece on the topic:

“In my experience when I was 8 or 10 or 12 years old, you know, we did take our clothes off once a day, we changed for gym, OK? And in my experience, too, people did sometimes stick things in my underwear.”
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Shocked silence, followed by explosive laughter. In fact, I have never seen Justice Clarence Thomas laugh harder. Breyer tries to recover: “Or not my underwear. Whatever. Whatever. I was the one who did it? I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think it’s beyond human experience.”

Wow, so your history of bullying now constitutes legal or moral precedent? I’m sorry, did I miss a shift in our legal justice system by which judge’s adolescent hijinks were sound juris prudence? It gets even more bizarre…

By now, even Justice David Souter has ditched Wolf, musing that if he were the principal in a school, he “would rather have the kid embarrassed by a strip search … than have some other kids dead because the stuff is distributed at lunchtime and things go awry.”

Dead? By a couple of Advil?
The combination of disregard for young women’s bodily integrity with total hyperbole about the potential effects of a couple of Ibuprofen is infuriating. Students deserve the same rights as their oh-so-adult counterparts, regardless of and, hell, especially because they are subjected to the horrors of the adolescent locker room.
Thanks to Annasara for the heads up.

Join the Conversation

  • cattrack

    “The difference in searching a locker or desk vs. the person is that a locker is school property, it’s their responsibility to make sure kids aren’t storing anything dangerous in it.”
    So you don’t think schools have the right to search a student’s backpack? Or their person? That’s far fetched. How many assaults and killings would we have if schools didn’t have that ability? This would be turning the clock back 40yrs in the very same country that has seen unprecedented violence in its schools in recent years. There’s a reasonable line here that allows school officials to search for dangerous or illicit contraband, but not for ibuprofen. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. In many schools violence and drugs are a dangerous, and everyday, reality.

  • baddesignhurts

    unfortunately, you’re right.
    perhaps some sort of protocol for contacting a student’s parents first, or a search by a medical professional with some sort of warrant (to prevent the attempts to humiliate others by tattling), or some sort of x-ray machine, would strike a better balance. because, in many schools, including my high school, weapons and illegal drugs are big problems. i lost friends and classmates to overdoses and drive-bys, and snuck out of school once when there was a bomb threat.
    this girl’s dignity and rights are of the utmost importance, as is the right of everyone to go to school in a safe environment.

  • meeneecat

    Wow…the hysteria and hyperbole over drugs [[war on drugs, war on drugs, war on drugs]] continues…Well this would not be the first time a girl was a victim of unreasonable search and seizure due to the “ZOMG DRUGS!…TERRORISTS!…WMDS!…ADVIL!…WE COULD ALL DIE!” fear mongering. Here’s something I find 10x more scary than any “drug”…in order for you to be stripped searched or even cavity searched (read: unreasonable search and seizure) all any person of authority, cops, school administrators, etc. has to do is say the magic word “She might have *scary music* DRUGS!!!” “Quick, take her clothes off!”.
    Yeah, THAT will stop teenage girls from taking advil when they have cramps. I mean we all know how well these alarmist drug policies have worked to keep America completely drug free!
    Seriously people, do you really want some school authority to just be able to point to you or your daughter and say “you could have advil…STRIP HER!” (and for some “reason” it always seems to be that they are stripping and searching the GIRLS)…It’s not very far from having “random strip searches”, and then pretty soon, “mandatory stripping in order to be allowed on the premises”…Wake up and smell the coffee people. I’m not some Libertarian extremist, but all these policies do is accomplish little to nothing at the cost of our freedom from unnecessary search and seizure (a constitutional right, btw). And I’m definitely on the side that believes this girl was totally and completely violated. I’m just shocked at the number of people here who agree that the school acted appropriately.

  • Pantheon

    There’s a big difference between searching lockers and strip searching. Lockers are school property and the school has a right to search them, and the student knows that. Even backpack searches are not invasive. However, I’d still argue that they need better probable cause for any of those searches– taking the word of a student who is just trying to get out of trouble themselves, with no corroboration, is not a good enough reason. What’s to stop kids from tattling on anyone they don’t like to get them strip searched?
    If they thought she was hiding a gun or heroin in her panties, they absolutely should have called her parents and the police. That’s some serious stuff and it shouldn’t be the school’s job to deal with it. Or, you know, if she actually did have a gun in her panties and wanted to be given lighter punishment by the school instead of entering the legal system, they could have given her a choice to produce it or have the cops called.
    There are so many things wrong with this particular situation its hard to know where to start with the arguments: ibuprofen, hearsay, not questioning her, searching elsewhere, or checking into the story properly first, not calling her parents first, etc.
    I remember an episode of Boston Public where they thought some girls were putting rolls of pennies in their vaginas (to make it seem like they’d gained weight because they were being monitored as anorexics). I don’t remember exactly what happened but I’m pretty sure they didn’t search their vaginas.

  • South

    “However, I’d still argue that they need better probable cause for any of those searches– taking the word of a student who is just trying to get out of trouble themselves, with no corroboration, is not a good enough reason. What’s to stop kids from tattling on anyone they don’t like to get them strip searched?”
    Lol, you make them sound just like prison informants.

  • Brianna G

    I’m not a teacher and I definitely think your statement is absurd. Also, maybe the reason they responded to it was because they understand first-hand how little control teachers actually have? We have an idea that teachers are in charge of our kids, but as someone who used to go to school board meetings, the teachers are lucky if they can plan their own curricula and they have NO say on drug policy.

  • Brianna G

    Dude, I’d way rather be in prison than middle school again.

  • Brianna G

    “First there were the dirty old men who used their positions of authority to gain access to young women.”
    There are perverts in every profession. Teachers who sleep with students are not usually defended by other teachers.
    “Then there were the ones who pretended to be nice but tried to subtly screw over students by “losing” homework or “improperly filling in” forms. (These were the worst, because they then blamed the students for their own “errors” which were not errors at all.)”
    95% of the time it IS the kid’s fault. I remember in school telling teachers they must have lost my homework, then doing it at lunch and sneaking it onto their desk when they weren’t looking. They aren’t trying to screw you over, they have just been screwed over too many times by kids who lie to them.
    “And finally, the Overlord types, who obviously just became teachers to have some authority. ”
    Coach-teachers are often assholes. However, it’s not the teacher’s fault that the schools protect these guys at all costs. Every teacher in my school ganged up on our girl’s lacrosse coach/social studies teacher because so many girls were complaining about him. He kept his job until there was a class-action lawsuit, because his team was winning.
    Remember, the teachers have NO SAY in their coworkers. They can’t “police” them because they have no power over them. They aren’t involved in hiring or firing.
    You had some bad teachers. That doesn’t mean it’s the other teachers’ fault. Or that teachers are involved in this case, which they were not.

  • aliciamaud74

    The problem is that commenter that people took offense at didn’t say “Some teachers are on a power trip.” (Of course *some* are. There are hundreds of thousands of people in the profession, and like in any profession, a percentage of them are not good at their jobs.) They said “Teachers are powertrippers,” thereby thoughtlessly writing off an entire profession based on his/her bad experience in education. And using anecdotes to support those generalizations about a HUGE group of people is just wrong—they would certainly be called out on it if they said, “Well, women are emotional. I’ve met a number of women who cry easily, so it sure seems to be common enough” and they should be called out on this kind of stereotyping, too.
    . . .especially since the people who did the strip search and the people who ordered the strip search WERE NOT TEACHERS. School nurse. Secretary. Administrator. NOT TEACHERS.

  • sarahcat

    “I find it really funny that the only two people who bothered to contradict my statement were teachers.”
    So, it’s still ok for you to make a sweeping generalization about a group of people, as long as the only people who object to it are part of the group you mocked? Also, you didn’t seem to respond to any of the points I and other people made about the fact that it wasn’t even the teachers who were involved in this incident. Not to mention that many other people have responded to you statement indirectly. Regardless, what happened to this girl was terrible, and there certainly are some shitty teachers out there, but let’s not malign an entire profession.

  • sarahcat

    Exactly! I have no say over what other teachers in my school do, and I can only report something if I suspect there is some sort of criminal activity involved or a violation of the state code of ethics for educators (assaulting a student, using drugs or alcohol on campus, stealing money, etc.). If a teacher is just an ass, then there is nothing I can do. There are tons of horrible teachers, and there are also tons of wonderful teachers. Most teachers are somewhere in the middle. Should students have better teachers? Absolutely, but there are so many things in education that will have to change for that to happen, and all teachers will never be perfect.

  • Lisa

    Do you also find it funny when only women are outraged by sexism? That happens a hell of a lot but I’m assuming you still find their complaints valid even if no one outside of the target group speak up.
    For the record, I’m not a teacher and I think your comment was extremely stupid. I’m sorry you had a bad experience with a teacher, but to generalize all teaches as power trippers is ridiculous.

  • patrickhenry

    ok first of all what scares me the most is that of all the teachers who posted here not one of them know that ibuproven when taken with another easy to get over the counter drug gives you a all day high,and from what the court oral argument’s say that is what they were planning on doing..if it comes down to who is going to strip search my 13 year old self i would rather it be a school nurse then a police officer any day,in my school the nurse is also the same one who gives beginning of the year physicals..and finnaly the students in a lot of schools don’t have parents that can be contacted those kids would be sitting there for a very long time.there are schools in this country where teachers are escourted by armed gaurds.this is a lousy situation but schools need this law to keep gang bangers from shoving drugs down their pants and daring teacher’s to do something about it..if one embarresed kid stops one kid from o.d. in school then i’m for this law