WASHINGTON, DC --The Rutherford Institute, in conjunction with the Cato Institute and the Goldwater Institute's Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation, has filed a friend of the court brief with the United States Supreme Court in Safford Unif. Sch. Dist. # 1 v. Redding.
The Institute's brief asks the Court to affirm that school officials violated the constitutional rights of a 13-year-old Arizona girl when they subjected her to an intimate strip search based on a classmate's uncorroborated accusation that she possessed ibuprofen.
"Subjecting students throughout the country to invasive strip searches in the so-called quest to make the schools safer and drug-free is ludicrous," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "Savana's case illustrates the danger inherent in giving school administrators carte blanche authority to violate the civil liberties and privacy rights of students."
In October 2003, Savana Redding, an eighth-grade honor roll student at Safford Middle School in Safford, Arizona, was accused of possessing prescription-strength ibuprofen. Although Savana, who had no disciplinary record, denied the charge and a search of her belongings and outer clothing disclosed no evidence of wrongdoing, school officials subjected her to what a federal appeals judge described as a humiliating and degrading strip search.
After stripping down to her underwear, Savana was ordered to pull out her bra and move it from side to side and open her legs and pull out her underwear so that her breasts and genital area could be examined by two female school employees. No pills were found. Savana did not return to school for months after the search and eventually transferred to another school.
In response to a lawsuit filed by Savana's mother, a district court ruled that the strip search did not violated Savana's Fourth Amendment rights. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the lower court's ruling, stating, "It does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old child is an invasion of constitutional rights. More than that, it is a violation of any known principle of human dignity." School officials subsequently appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear arguments in the case on April 21.
Pointing out that strip searches are the most severe invasions of privacy that the government can legally commit, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue in their brief that school officials must have particularly strong and targeted evidence to support the decision to require a student to disrobe and expose his or her private areas. In addition to asking the Supreme Court to affirm the Ninth Circuit's ruling, Institute attorneys also urged the justices to provide school officials with guidance that will protect the security of students from severe intrusions into their personal privacy.
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