An 8-to-1 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court today held it was an unconstitutional intrusion for school officials to search a 13-year-old girl’s bra and underpants for a suspected prescription drug. “[T]he content of the suspicion failed to match the degree of intrusion,” wrote retiring Justice David Souter for the majority.
By a 7-to-2 vote, however, the court ruled that individual school officials were immune from liability because the student’s right to be free from such an intrusive search had not been clearly established at the time.
The case is Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding.
Richmond lawyer Pat Lacy, a frequent adviser to school systems in Virginia, said the decision provides some guidance on student searches. Most Virginia school practice, however, already complies with the standards set by the court, Lacy said.
The holding that the “strip search” of the Arizona teen was unconstitutional was not surprising, Lacy said, because the suspected drugs were not inherently dangerous and school officials did not appear to have done a very thorough investigation before the search.
By Peter Vieth