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Strip-Search First, Ask Questions Later

Dan Berger,
Drug Law Reform Project
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March 24, 2009

The New York Times, in a front-page article today, takes an in-depth look at Redding v. Safford, an ACLU case, and one of the most appalling items on the Supreme Court’s docket this term. Savana Redding, a then 13-year-old eighth-grade honor student, was strip-searched by school officials based on nothing more than a classmate’s claim that Redding had given her prescription strength ibuprofen – the equivalent of two over-the-counter Advil capsules. The school made no attempt to corroborate the accusation, and had no further evidence that Redding was in possession of ibuprofen or that she might be concealing something in her undergarments. Without taking the most basic step of contacting her mother, school officials forced Redding to strip to her underwear and then to expose her bare breasts and genitalia.

The fact that no ibuprofen pills were uncovered seems almost beside the point. As the majority opinion in the case from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals proclaimed, “It does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old child is an invasion of constitutional rights. More than that, it is a violation of any known principle of human dignity.” Or, to put it less eloquently: You can’t strip search an adolescent student just because a classmate said she gave them Advil.

Or can you? The Supreme Court will soon weigh in, reviewing the 9th Circuit’s ruling in Redding’s favor, and opening up the possibility that strip searches could soon become a much more frequent occurrence in America’s classrooms. Arguments in the case is set for April 21. Stay tuned.

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