Supreme Court Debates Strip Searching Middle Schoolers

The Supreme Court spent an hour yesterday debating, as the New York TImes put it, “what middle school students are apt to put in their underwear.” The case dealt with a 2003 incident in Arizona when then 13-year-old Savana Redding was strip-searched by school officials who suspected she was hiding prescription ibuprofen in her undies. [New York Times] Ibuprofen? Don’t middle school officials have bigger things to worry about? Like weapons?

Highlights from the trial:

  • Sweet Justice. Justice Stephen Breyer said adolescents hiding pills in their pantaloons seemed logical to him. “We changed for gym, O.K.? And in my experience, people did sometimes stick things in my underwear,” he said. The courtroom erupted with laughter. Who says Supreme Court justices don’t have a sense of humor?
  • Say What? Lawyer Adam Wolf disagreed, saying that the male assistant principal who ordered the search was acting on a hunch. “If Savana was currently concealing ibuprofen pills underneath her underpants for others’ oral consumption … there’s a certain ick factor,” he said. What kind of middle schoolers are taking recreational ibuprofen? Is that even illegal?
  • The Wright Wrong. School district representative Matthew Wright ascertained that “intimate searches” should be allowed, even for over-the-counter drugs, but searches of students’ body cavities shouldn’t be, because school officials are not trained to conduct such searches. What did these poor kids do to deserve cavity searches? Are they dealing meth or kicking puppies?
  • The Logical Song. David O’Neil, an assistant to the solicitor general representing the federal government, was more helpful. “Certainly there is no practice anywhere, that I’m aware of, of hiding ibuprofen in underwear,” he said. “On the other hand, if there is good reason to think a student is keeping contraband in her underwear, you could go directly to that location.” What would be a good reason to suspect? Pill bottle-shaped bulges?
  • Crotch Pocket. Mr. Wolf agreed that strip searches might be appropriate, if the school has evidence that a student has a habit of “crotching” drugs. What a reputation that would be! And we thought having cooties was bad.
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