Strip-Searching at Schools

Elisabeth Garber-Paul

In 2003, Savana Redding, a 13-year-old honor student at Safford Middle School in Arizona, was suspected by school administrators of carrying and distributing illegal drugs after a fellow student alleged that she was guilty.

In 2003, Savana Redding, a 13-year-old honor student at Safford Middle School in Arizona, was suspected by school administrators of carrying and distributing illegal drugs after a fellow student alleged that she was guilty. They didn’t bother to call Savana’s mother, but proceeded to strip search her down to her underwear.

After the traumatizing event—from which she developed ulcers, and was too embarrassed to ever return to that school—the officials did, in fact, find a controlled substance: a prescription-strength ibuprofen, the equivalent of two Advils.

The young girl and her mother sued the school district for violating the fourth amendment, which protects all citizens against unreasonable search and seizure, and the case has worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Tuesday, to the chagrin of many onlookers, the justices were split on the issue.

“Justice Stephen G. Breyer wondered if the incident was much different from the experience of disrobing for gym class,” wrote Robert Barnes in the Washington Post today. “Justice Anthony M. Kennedy affirmed his deep concerns about illicit drugs. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed at times on the edge of exasperation with her all-male colleagues. And Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. searched for a way to make the issue go away.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now


So, at what point can a search be considered unreasonable? The amendment guarantees “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” 

Where was the probable cause in this case—and at what point can a 13 year-old-girl give permission for a full-body search? While prescription drugs are an increasing problem among American teens, there certainly is a better way to go about curbing the habits than violating and humiliating girls.

News LGBTQ

Ten More States Fight White House on Transgender Equality in Schools

Christine Grimaldi

Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming filed the lawsuit Friday in a Nebraska U.S. District Court.

Ten additional states have sued the Obama administration over federal guidance advising public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming filed the lawsuit Friday in a Nebraska U.S. District Court. In doing so, the states will make their case in a conservative jurisdiction that provides a pipeline to the similarly right-leaning Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The latest lawsuit brings the number of states pursuing legal action over the guidance to 21. In May, 11 states and state officials sued the Obama administration in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, viewed as a similarly friendly environment for the plaintiffs. Both complaints rely on a legal claim designed to appeal directly to conservative judges.

A U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson at the time nevertheless expressed confidence in the administration’s legal standing about what amounts to “significant guidance,” which lacks the force of law or an executive order. The complaints charge that the guidance failed to go through notice-and-comment rulemaking, but as explained by Rewire’s Imani Gandy, the administration doesn’t need the public to weigh in on guidance that clarifies existing laws. Typically, the contents of a guidance document do not amount to an “injury in fact,” the basis for successful lawsuits.

Most of the states in the lawsuits have Republican administrations in place. Montana, West Virginia, and Louisiana have Democratic governors.

News Law and Policy

Supreme Court Upholds Race-Conscious Admissions at University of Texas

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The 4-3 decision held that the admissions program by the University of Texas, which considers the race of applicants among a variety of other factors, is constitutional.

A narrowly divided Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the race-conscious admissions policy at the University of Texas (UT), handing diversity advocates a surprise win before the Court.

Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the 4-3 decision in Fisher v. University of Texas for the Roberts Court. Joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor, the majority held that the university program does not violate the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

Justice Elena Kagan had recused herself for prior work on the case in the U.S. Solicitor General’s office.

The case concerned the University of Texas’ admissions program, which has been the target of anti-affirmative action advocates for years. The program guarantees acceptance to the top 10 percent of students in every high school in the state.

But the admissions program has a second component: Remaining applicants from Texas and elsewhere are considered under standards that take into account various factors, including academic achievement, race, and ethnicity. It was that second component being challenged before the Court.

Abigail Fisher, a white woman, first challenged the policy in 2008, claiming the university had denied her admission based on her race. Fisher did not meet the top 10 percent threshold to get into the University of Texas at Austin, so her application was considered and rejected by administrators under the second portion of the university’s admissions policy. That challenge landed before the Roberts Court in 2013. But instead of deciding then whether or not UT’s policy was constitutional, the Roberts Court sent the case back to the lower courts for reconsideration. The Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of UT’s policy, and Fisher appealed to the Supreme Court again.

Thursday’s decision affirms that lower court decision upholding the university’s policy.

“A university is in large part defined by those intangible ‘qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness,’” Justice Kennedy wrote, quoting from key civil rights case Sweatt v. Painter. “Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission.”

But while a win for diversity advocates, the decision signaled a compromise as Kennedy suggested considering race and ethnicity in admissions policies is something that should be “ongoing” and “subject to refinement.”

“The Court’s affirmance of the University’s admissions policy today does not necessarily mean the University may rely on that same policy without refinement,” Kennedy wrote. “It is the University’s ongoing obligation to engage in constant deliberation and continued reflection regarding its admissions policies.”

Edward Blum, president of the Project on Fair Representation, a conservative legal organization that opposes “racial preferences” in government, organized and funded Fisher’s challenge. Blum’s organization also brought the legal challenge that resulted in the justices striking a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

Fisher issued a statement shortly after the decision: “I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has ruled that students applying to the Univ. of Texas can be treated differently because of their race or ethnicity. I hope that the nation will one day move beyond affirmative action.”