It is encouraging that the U.S. Supreme Court so strongly condemned Thursday the decision by officials in an Arizona school district to strip-search a 13-year-old girl because they suspected she might have some Ibuprofen pain reliever in her undergarments.
The amazing thing is that even one justice (Clarence Thomas) dissented, and that the court was not more forceful in condemning the drug-law-induced hysteria that made the possibility of searching a child for a common pain medication even thinkable.
Savana Redding was 13 in 2003 when, in response to a tip from another girl (in trouble for bringing drugs to school) school officials in Safford, Ariz., conducted a strip search to see if she had any Ibuprofen. They found nothing.
Savana’s mother sued, and after losing at trial court, won at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the school district and assistant principal potentially liable for damages.
The Supreme Court agreed, 8-1, the search was unreasonable, affirming that children do not give up all their rights when they are in a government school. It didn’t find the vice principal personally liable (two justices in the majority disagreed with this) and asked a lower court to decide if the school district should be held liable.
Two side issues are worth a comment.
This was the case about which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg remarked that some of her colleagues might not have sufficient empathy to decide the case correctly because they, having never been a 13-year-old girl, could not know how humiliating such a search would be for a girl that age. Fortunately seven white males, based on the facts, the circumstances and the law, were able to make the right call.
This case also highlights the absurd lengths to which hysteria induced by the government’s ill-advised “war on drugs” has led some officials, especially school officials, to travel in making policies and adopting procedures. The drug in question in this case was Ibuprofen, for heaven’s sake. One would be hard-pressed to find an American medicine cabinet that didn’t contain it. It has no particular reputation as a drug of abuse. Yet school officials have not only banned it from school property, but some officials were willing to conduct a strip-search of a young girl, and probably feel self-righteous about it, believing they had protected the student body at large from some grave danger.
It is time for school officials to back away from such silly rules, and for governments at all levels to reconsider the shaky justifications for the larger war on drugs.