Saturday, January 17, 2009

Protecting society by strip-searching schoolgirls

The War Against Some Drugs was dealt a serious blow recently when the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the parents of Savana Redding were entitled to sue school officials in Safford, Arizona. Adam Liptak of the New York Times has the details.

Back in 2003, an eight-grade student was found with a couple of ibuprofin, which violated the school's zero-tolerance-for-any-drugs-whatsoever policy. This student said she got the pills from Redding, which prompted school officials to search her belongings, then order her to strip down to bra and panties. Redding was clean -- apparently!

Redding's mother, being an unpatriotic no-good troublemaker, sued the school officials who strip-searched her. The trial judge sensibly ruled that school officials were immune from lawsuits. When Redding's mother appealed the decision to a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, they upheld the judge's ruling, but an appeal to the full Court of Appeals resulted in a reversal of the judge's decision by a bare (so to speak) 6-5 majority, so that the assistant principal who ordered the strip search could indeed be sued.

Needless to say, the school district appealed that ruling, insisting that requiring “probable cause for some searches in the school setting that may be deemed more intrusive” created “a roadblock to the type of swift and effective response that is too often needed to protect the very safety of students, particularly from the threats posed by drugs and weapons.” In other words, if we're not allowed to strip-search thirteen-year-old girls to look for ibuprofin, our schools will become war zones overrun with gun-toting drug dealers. On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, dissenting from the Court of Appeals ruling, stated that “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.” He added, “I would find this search constitutional,” he wrote, “and would certainly forgive the Safford officials’ mistake as reasonable.”

Let's hear it for Judge Hawkins! Subjecting a thirteen-year-old girl to the humiliation and degradation of a strip-search is a small price to pay to protect our schools from the deadly scourge of over-the-counter medication. I think I can state with some confidence that those towering legal minds that make up the Republican majority in the US Supreme Court will see things the same way.

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