On April 21, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the case of Savanna Redding.
Six years ago, when Miss Redding was a 13-year-old eighth grader, she was subjected to a strip search by school officials. Was she carrying, or suspected of carrying, a lethal weapon – a bomb, a knife, or a loaded gun? Nope. Rather, school officials thought she was carrying prescription-strength ibuprofen. I kid you not.
According to The New York Times (March 24), the search was ordered by an assistant principal when another child, caught with ibuprofen, claimed that the pills belonged to. Redding. The assistant principal said he had good reason, beyond the other child’s accusation, to suspect that Redding was carrying drugs, for she and other students had been “unusually rowdy” at a school dance a couple of months before.
A strip search conducted on the basis of an accusation leveled by a child who was in trouble and was no doubt looking to shed or share the blame, together with an incident of alleged rowdiness that had occurred two months earlier. A strip search. For ibuprofen.
Miss Redding, understandably, has sought justice in the courts. So far they have ruled in her favor. A majority of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the school’s actions violated “any known principle of human dignity.” Yet one judge dissented, writing that “1 do not think it was unreasonable for school officials . . . to conduct the search in an effort to obviate a potential threat to the health and safety of their students.” Judge, speaking as a parent, I can tell you that the government need not strip search one of my daughter’s classmates in order to keep her safe from ibuprofen, even (gasp!) if it’s prescription strength.
The Justice Department, in a friend of the court brief, said that the search was unreasonable – but only because there was no reason to believe she was carrying ibuprofen. In other words, the federal government is saying that if she had been in possession of the pills, well then, by all means, strip away! The federals added that the assistant principal should not be subject to a lawsuit, because of previous case law.
So, in April, the case was heard by the Supreme Court. The justices’ comments from the bench did little to comfort friends of personal liberty. Justice Stephen Breyer said he thought it logical that a child would use underwear as a hiding place. Unfortunately, Savanna’s attorney merely disagreed with that contention. He did not say what should have been said: “Your honor, you don’t strip search a child for a few painkillers.”
Justice David Souter made the right point. “Having an aspirin tablet does not present a health and safety risk.” Thank you, judge. But then Souter went on to say this: “1 would rather have a kid embarrassed by a strip search . . . than to have some other kids dead because the stuff is distributed at lunchtime and things go awry.” Well, okay, if there’s a reason- able suspicion the kid is carrying heroin. But ibuprofen?
Justice Antonin Scalia took the line that if no drugs were found in the child’s backpack or outer garments, then the undergarments were the next logical step. “You’ve searched everywhere else,” he stated. “By God, the drugs must be in her underpants.” So that tower of judicial restraint sees no problem in stripping a child to see if she’s got some ibuprofen.
Chief Justice John Roberts actually chose to differentiate between the girl’s bra and panties. Searching her bra, he said, “doesn’t seem as outlandish as the underpants.” So the top judge in the land might allow school officials to get to second base, but third – well, maybe not.
Generally I prefer not to criticize elitism, of which we actually have too little in America, but here we have a case of elitism gone bad – very bad. Supreme Court justices are among the most privileged members of our society. They are not subject to indignities at the hands of petty officialdom. In this case it seems clear that the justices lack empathy for a girl who was humiliated over a matter of a few painkillers – painkillers she did not in fact possess. I am particularly unhappy to see people like Roberts and Scalia coming down in favor of the nanny-nazi state. To those who know the facts of this case, it is clear there was no reasonable suspicion that Savanna Redding possessed any drugs. And I say again, the drug in question was not smack or coke or meth, but ibuprofen. Shame on the Court.