Supreme Court Says School Violated 4th Amendment In Strip Search

Today, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Safford Unified School District #1, et. al. v. Redding that school officials violated the 4th Amendment when they strip-searched a 13-year-old girl. Savana Redding was subjected to a strip-search that included looking inside her underwear after the school principal received a highly questionable tip that she might be in possession of prescription Ibuprofen. None was found.

By a strong majority, the Court declared the search unreasonable under the 4th Amendment, finding that a full strip search was unjustified based on the nature of the drugs in question and the absence of specific evidence that contraband would be found in her underwear.

Unfortunately, despite upholding the 4th Amendment in this case, the Court left the door wide open for future violations of student rights. The justices agreed by a 7-2 vote that the school officials who carried out the illegal search should not be held liable because the case law was unclear at the time. Now that the central legal issues are settled, similar incidents could invoke liability in the future, but the ruling itself will fail to prohibit such searches in many instances. By placing heavy emphasis on the negligible threat posed by prescription Ibuprofen, the Court implies that a different outcome may have been reached depending on the type of contraband in question. It's possible, for example, that the search would have been upheld if it involved marijuana.

Thus, today's ruling fails to fully clarify the legality of drug searches in schools under many circumstances. It also fails to punish those responsible for degrading an innocent young woman based on flimsy and ultimately false evidence. Hopefully, however, it will at least serve as a reminder to educators that schools are not a 4th Amendment-free zone.

Listen to the "Don't Consent To The Search" Podcast on this case, "Strip Searches In School... OMG!"