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Search and Seizure: Supreme Court to Hear Case of School Girl Strip-Searched for Ibuprofen

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #569)
Consequences of Prohibition
Politics & Advocacy

The US Supreme Court agreed last Friday to review the case of a 13-year-old honor student who was subjected to a strip search by school officials looking for prescription-strength Ibuprofen. In doing so, it will once again revisit the contentious topic of just how far school officials can go in performing anti-drug searches that would be considered unconstitutional if conducted outside the school setting.

US Supreme Court
The case had its genesis in the 2003 search of then 8th-grade honor student Savana Redding after another student who had been found with Ibuprofen pills in violation of school policy said Redding had given her the pills. Redding denied having provided any pills. School officials searched Redding's locker and belongings and found nothing. They then made Redding strip to her bra and underwear and ordered her, in the words of the appeal court, "to pull her bra out to the side and shake it" and "pull out her underwear at the crotch and shake it." No pills were found.

Redding's mother filed a lawsuit challenging the strip search as unconstitutional and seeking damages from the school district. A trial judge dismissed the lawsuit against school officials, ruling that they were immune from suit. A three-judge panel of the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, but was overturned in a 6-5 vote by the full court, which ruled that the suit could go forward against the assistant principal who ordered the search.

The 9th Circuit majority was scathing in its opinion. "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 of some magnitude," Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the majority, quoting a decision in another case. "More than that: it is a violation of any known principle of human dignity."

But in his dissent, Judge Michael Daly Hawkins said that while the case was "a close call" given the "humiliation and degradation" endured by Redding, school officials were "not unreasonable" in ordering the search. "I do not think it was unreasonable for school officials, acting in good faith, to conduct the search in an effort to obviate a potential threat to the health and safety of their students. I would find this search constitutional," he wrote, "and would certainly forgive the Safford officials' mistake as reasonable."

Now, the Supreme Court must decide two questions: "Whether the Fourth Amendment prohibits school officials from conducting a search of a student suspected of possessing and distributing prescription drugs, and whether the 9th Circuit departed from established principles of qualified immunity in holding that a public school administrator may be liable in a damages lawsuit for conducting a search of a student."

The case is Redding v. Safford Unified School District #1, or, as it is now known with the school district appealing, Safford Unified School District v. Redding.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

Nowhere should a 13 year old girl be made to take off her clothes for school officials. This is absolutely insane that any judge would say that this was a reasonable thing to do. So in acting in "good faith" they made an underage girl take off her clothes. Fucking sick. I hope that girl sues the pants(haha) off that schools administration.

Mon, 01/26/2009 - 10:59am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I will be very curious to see what the Supreme Court decides in this case because I feel these invasions of our privacy are the wave of the future. How could the prohibitionist regime continue for 95 years now despite its utter failure if it were not supported within the bowels of the criminal syndicate that is our Federal Government. If we could strip search Washington DC we would be horrified by the contraband hidden within it's colon. Barak Uncletomma is just more of the same and when one looks at the drug war in black and white it should be clear to this nation's first mulatto president what "change" should mean. Thanks in part to Bill Clinton and Joe Biden, blacks "represent 12% of the US population, 13% of drug users, 35% of arrests for drug possession, 55% of convictions for drug possession, and 74% of prison sentences for drug possession."

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) while commenting on an ambassador in 1848 said "Ordinarily he is insane, but he has lucid moments when he is only stupid." While Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.

Our drug policy is stupid on a good day-mostly it's insane. If change comes it won't be from DC.

Wed, 01/28/2009 - 12:20pm Permalink
patriot9878 (not verified)

They had no right to search the girl. I know a doctor in Cambridge Maryland mayernoff ( not sure of spelling) He had to give girls a physicla examine at school. The first three had small tits and he just looked at their titties and said nothing. The fourth had large tits and he had her lift up her arm several tiems and shake her ttits. Something he never got the other girls to do. This pervert no doubt was looking at her breasts for pleasure.

If someone says that you gave them something and you say you didn't there is no right to search. If that's the case then anyone with authority can search anyone at anytime if someone says they gave them something.

Sat, 01/02/2010 - 4:29pm Permalink
pill taker (not verified)

i am 14 and yeh i take pills for head aches and cramps but its just rediculous for someone to strip search a girl just for having pills. in my school u cant be given pills for head aches or whatever. u have to call home or just go back to class. my family works. i have no way of getting them so if im crampin or have a head ache i take them with me. if i were her i woulda just told them to fuck off. or if they wanted them they would have to dig down there themselves.

Tue, 04/27/2010 - 10:36pm Permalink

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