In an 8-1 decision, US Supreme Court has held (pdf) that a strip search of a 13-year-old girl by Arizona school officials who were looking for drugs was illegal. Justice Souter wrote the majority opinion in Safford United School District #1 v. Redding (08-479), and Justice Thomas was the lone dissenter.
The school officials searched Savana because another student, who had been caught with ibuprofen, had accused Savana of giving her the pills. The court held that the search of Savana’s backpack and outer clothing for drugs was legal, but it was not legal to require her “to pull her bra out and to the side and shake it, and to pull out the elastic on her underpants, thus exposing her breasts and pelvic area to some degree.” Justice Souter wrote, “The meaning of such a search, and the degradation its subject may reasonably feel, place a search that intrusive in a category of its own demanding its own specific suspicions.”
Also, “the content of the suspicion failed to match the degree of intrusion. [The assistant principal of the school, Kerry Wilson,] knew beforehand that the pills were prescription-strength ibuprofen and over-the-counter naproxen, common pain relievers equivalent to two Advil, or one Aleve.” Based on the facts of the case, the court concluded, “In sum, what was missing from the suspected facts that pointed to Savana [Redding] was any indication of danger to the students from the power of the drugs or their quantity, and any reason to suppose that Savana was carrying pills in her underwear. We think that the combination of these deficiencies was fatal to finding the search reasonable.”
In his dissent, Justice Thomas said he would have upheld the search. He said, “the underlying response by school administrators was reasonable and justified,” and “Judges are not qualified to second-guess the best manner for maintaining quiet and order in the school environment.”