Supreme Court Rules, without Compassion, Student’s Strip Search Violated Fourth Amendment
By: Jim Byrd
I am perplexed over the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Redding v. Safford United School District. The court ruled that the 4th Amendment rights of one Savana Redding were violated by the school’s performing a strip search of Savana for prescription drugs. I am perplexed on two levels: First, the ruling in favor of Savana Redding, and second, the strip search by the school.
A modicum of the case’s history for the uninformed: On October 2003, Assistant Principal Wilson, after receiving an uncorroborated tip from a student that Savana was in possession of prescription strength ibuprofen, queried Savana about the allegation. After Savana denied knowledge of the medicine, Wilson, along with Helen Romero, an administrative assistant, searched Savana’s backpack and other belongings for the ibuprofen. When the search did not yield any ibuprofen, Wilson had Romero escort Savana to the school nurse’s office to have a strip search performed. The strip search, performed by Peggy Schwallier, the school nurse, also yielded no medicine. Savana’s mother subsequently filed a lawsuit against Wilson, Romero, Schwallier, and the Safford United School District for the violation of Savana’s 4th Amendment rights of an unreasonable search.
After traveling through the lower courts, the case ended at the Supreme Court; the court heard the oral arguments on April 21, 2009. Considering that the Supreme Court has a history of being less than sympathetic towards public school students’ privacy rights, the court’s questioning was aggressive and penetrating–as is the context for all oral arguments before the Supreme Court. But of the nine justices, Justice Ginsberg was conspicuously restrained in her argument of the case. The reason: she was the only one on the bench who had, at one time, been a 13 year old girl. While clearly aggravated by the line of questioning during oral arguments by the male members of the bench, Ginsberg publicly admonished her eight male colleagues in an article by Joan Biskupic in USA Today by stating, “They have never been a 13-year old girl. It’s a very sensitive age for a girl. I didn’t think that my colleagues, some of them, understood.” Ginsberg also stated that the court needed another woman on the bench. Ginsberg’s concern with having another woman on the court may stem from the fact that, at some point in the future, a case will be presented that will require a jurist of the female gender to interpret the meaning of a law written by old, wise white men two hundred years ago.
Ginsberg was clearly, in this particular case, the only justice on the bench who possessed the “compassion to interpret the Constitution,” the compassion that Obama so recklessly prescribes for a Supreme Court jurist, rather than the actual meaning and intent of the law.
The line of questioning by the eight male justices, devoid of the experience of being a 13-year old girl, and the court’s history in students’ privacy rights cases, appeared to intimate that the ruling would be 8-1 in favor of the Safford School District.
The perplexing part of the Supreme Court’s ruling was the 8-1 majority in favor of Savana Redding. The only dissenting vote came from Clarence Thomas, the only ethnic minority on the bench. How could a court, with 8 members who never experienced being a 13-year old girl, not having the council of a “wise Latina woman” on the bench, comprised of seven “white males who were never a Latina woman (to quote Sotomayor), ever reach the conclusion, by an 8-1 margin, that the school violated the law by performing a strip search of Savana Redding?
Here is how they did it: They ruled on the 4th Amendment as it was intended. No compassion, no life experiences as a 13-year old girl, no “wise Latina Woman,” just the intent–which prevailed in this case– of the 4th Amendment.
The second perplexing area of this case is why this was a case at all. Why did this incident have to breach the boundaries of the school, or the Safford School District, for that matter?
The first indication that this was a case impregnated with stupidity, politics, political correctness, and an astounding lack of common sense was the answer to this question: Did the punishment equal the crime, or in this case, alleged crime? This is generally the scenario of all zero tolerance cases–a draconian consequence as punishment for minor infraction, or allegation. For a 13-year old girl to be strip searched without reasonable and corroborated evidence is punishment.
When these cases read like a satire, it is sometimes a murky area of who is to blame for the ridiculously dim-witted zero tolerance rules and their enforcement: is it that school administrators are devoid of common sense; are their hands forced by a school district rule of zero tolerance; is it state mandated laws of zero tolerance that overrule and make obsolete the use of discretion and common sense?
Savana Redding was accused of having prescription strength ibuprofen on her person by a fellow student, without corroborating evidence. This would warrant a cursory search of her backpack and belongings as the Supreme Court has allowed. But what danger did the alleged prescription strength pills pose the student body? Considering that prescription strength ibuprofen is 800 mg and over the counter ibuprofen is 200 mg., and any student could walk into a convenience store, buy a bottle of ibuprofen, take four, and have administered a prescription dosage. Did the assistant principal not use common sense to ascertain this fact? Should ibuprofen even have been considered a drug under the zero tolerance for drugs? Did the assistant principal, without common sense, or by mandate, have to assume that a 13-year old girl would be carrying ibuprofen in her underwear? Was the scope of the search warranted since this was something that could be bought at a store down the street?
This is not an isolated case of a school district, administrators, and state lawmakers absurdity regarding zero tolerance. These nonsensical descents into educational abortion, which makes for daily headline news fodder, are strong indications as to why our educational system is in disrepair.
So despite a government run educational system, that mostly operates antithetical to the foundations of administering actual education, and despite the fact that eight of the nine justices on the Supreme Court never experienced being a thirteen year old girl, and despite the fact that Sonya Sotomayor was not on the bench to dispense a “compassionate interpretation of the Constitution,” the Supreme Court, these seven “white males,” somehow managed to muddle through and render a decision congruent with the intention of the 4th Amendment by its authors.
Jim Byrd's website is A Skewed View.