U.S. Supreme Court Declares Strip Search Of 13-Year-Old Student Unconstitutional

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Anjuli Verma, ACLU, (831) 471-9000 x11 or ACLU Media, (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

U.S. Supreme Court Declares Strip Search Of 13-Year-Old Student Unconstitutional

Ruling In ACLU Case Is Vindication of Students' Constitutional Rights

WASHINGTON - The
U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that school officials violated the
constitutional rights of a 13-year-old Arizona girl when they strip
searched her based on a classmate's uncorroborated accusation that she
previously possessed ibuprofen. The American Civil Liberties Union
represents April Redding, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, whose daughter,
Savana Redding, was strip searched by Safford Middle School officials
six years ago.
 
"We are pleased that the Supreme
Court recognized that school officials had no reason to strip search
Savana Redding and that the decision to do so was unconstitutional,"
said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the ACLU who argued the case before
the Court. "Today's ruling affirms that schools are not constitutional
dead zones. While we are disappointed with the Court's conclusion that
the law was not clear before today and therefore school officials were
not found liable, at least other students will not have to go through
what Savana experienced."

Savana Redding, an eighth grade
honor roll student at Safford Middle School in Safford, Arizona, was
pulled from class on October 8, 2003 by the school's vice principal,
Kerry Wilson. Earlier that day, Wilson had discovered
prescription-strength ibuprofen – 400 milligram pills equivalent to two
over-the-counter ibuprofen pills, such as Advil – in the possession of
Redding's classmate. Under questioning and faced with punishment, the
classmate claimed that Redding, who had no history of disciplinary
problems, had given her the pills.
 
After escorting Redding to his
office, Wilson demanded that she consent to a search of her
possessions. Redding agreed, wanting to prove she had nothing to hide.
Wilson did not inform Redding of the reason for the search. Joined by a
female school administrative assistant, Wilson searched Redding's
backpack and found nothing. Instructed by Wilson, the administrative
assistant then took Redding to the school nurse's office in order to
perform a strip search.

In the school nurse's office,
Redding was ordered to strip to her underwear. She was then commanded
to pull her bra out and to the side, exposing her breasts, and to pull
her underwear out at the crotch, exposing her pelvic area. The strip
search failed to uncover any ibuprofen pills.
 
"The strip search was the most
humiliating experience I have ever had," said Redding in a sworn
affidavit following the incident. "I held my head down so that they
could not see that I was about to cry."

The strip search was undertaken
based solely on the uncorroborated claims of the classmate facing
punishment. No attempt was made to corroborate the classmate's
accusations among other students or teachers. No physical evidence
suggested that Redding might be in possession of ibuprofen pills or
that she was concealing them in her undergarments.
 
Furthermore, the classmate had not
claimed that Redding currently possessed any pills, nor had the
classmate given any indication as to where they might be concealed. No
attempt was made to contact Redding's parents prior to conducting the
strip search.

In response to today's ruling,
Redding said, "I wanted to make sure that no other person would have to
go through this, so I am pleased by the Court's decision. I'm glad to
have helped make students feel safer in school."

The case, Safford Unified School District v. Redding,
was appealed from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit,
which found the strip search to be unconstitutional. A six-judge
majority of the appeals court further held that, since the strip search
was clearly unreasonable, the school official who ordered the search is
not entitled to immunity. In today's Supreme Court decision, despite
deeming the strip search of Redding unconstitutional, the Court found
that the school officials involved are immune from liability. The
decision leaves open the possibility, however, that the Safford Unified
School district could be held liable.

"Neither the Constitution nor common
sense permits school officials to treat a strip search the same as a
locker or backpack search," said Steven R. Shapiro, the ACLU's national
Legal Director. "Today's ruling eliminates any confusion that school
officials may have had about this seemingly obvious point."

The ACLU and ACLU of Arizona were
joined in the case by Bruce Macdonald, with the law firm McNamara,
Goldsmith, Jackson & Macdonald, and Andrew Petersen, with the firm
Humphrey & Petersen.

In addition, a broad constellation
of adolescent health experts and privacy rights advocates filed
friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Redding, including the
National Education Association, National Association of Social Workers
(NASW), CATO Institute, Rutherford Institute, Goldwater Institute and
Urban Justice Center, among others.

Today's decision is available online at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/search/40031lgl20090625.html

The ACLU's brief in the case is available online at: www.aclu.org/scotus/2008term/saffordunifiedschooldistrictv.redding/39160lgl20090325.html

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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