Court restricts student strip searches

June 25, 2009 at 4:31 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 25 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 Monday schools are banned from conducting student strip searches unless there is some tangible threat to other students.

In a case involving a 13-year-old Arizona girl, a majority opinion written by Justice David Souter and joined by five other justices, said the search violated the Fourth Amendment's right to privacy. The girl's "subjective expectation of privacy is inherent in her account of it as embarrassing, frightening and humiliating," Souter wrote.

Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, agreed but in dissent said the majority did not go far enough.

"This is, in essence, a case in which clearly established law meets clearly outrageous conduct," Stevens said.

Justice Clarence Thomas was the only dissenter who said the right to privacy was not violated.

Redding was an eighth-grade honor student in late summer 2003 in the small community of Safford, Ariz. Despite no history of disciplinary problems, the girl was forced to strip down to her bra and panties while female school officials looked for an aspirin substitute, ibuprofen. Another girl had been found with the drug, and had blamed Redding for giving it to her.

Redding was also forced to pull her bra and panties away from her skin, shaking them to show they contained no pills and exposing her breasts and pubic area, a federal appeals court said.

The federal appeals court later ruled the search was unconstitutional, and school officials had no immunity from a lawsuit filed on behalf of the girl.

The Supreme Court majority Thursday agreed, but struck down part of the lower-court ruling. Souter said school officials had the right to search her outer clothing.

But the suspected facts "did not indicate that the drugs presented a danger to students or were concealed in her underwear," Souter wrote, and school officials did not have sufficient suspicion to warrant a strip search.

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