Strip-Search Case Sent to the Supreme Court

— Heidi Sfiligoj, News Staff


NASW has recently filed an amicus brief in a case that has now reached the Supreme Court.

On April 1, NASW and the NASW Arizona Chapter filed a brief in the Supreme Court of the United States in the Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding case. The case involves Savana Redding, who was strip-searched at her middle school when she was 13 years old after school officials received an uncorroborated tip from another student that she may have an unauthorized ibuprofen in her possession. Redding's mother was not notified and no pills were found on the girl. Redding, an honors student without a disciplinary record, and her mother filed a lawsuit against the school in federal court based on a violation of her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable governmental searches and seizures.

NASW filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case last year in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. That court ruled that school officials had violated the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches. "It does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old child is an invasion of constitutional rights. More than that, it is a violation of any known principle of human dignity," Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote in the majority opinion.

The case is receiving attention on a national scale and has been reported on in a variety of newspapers, including the New York Times and USA Today, and discussed on television news shows.

The brief filed in the Supreme Court argues that the decision to strip search Redding was wholly unjustifiable under New Jersey v. T.L.O. In that 1985 case, the Supreme Court mandated that a schoolhouse search "will be permissible in its scope when the measures adopted are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction," the brief states.

"Social science research demonstrates that strip searches can traumatize children and adolescents and result in serious emotional damage," the brief states. "The effects, both acute and long-term, can be akin to those of psychological maltreatment. Likewise, states, school boards, and courts nationwide have recognized that strip-searching children is severely intrusive."

The brief makes two arguments:

  • A strip search of a 13-year-old girl by school authorities is an extraordinarily intrusive search.
  • An excessively intrusive search, such as a strip search, could only be justified by a heightened quantum of suspicion.

The brief argues that, pursuant to T.L.O., "The reasonable suspicion determination must balance risk to health/safety, locational specificity, weight of available evidence, and possible alternatives to the search."

"Social science, state statutes, school regulations and precedent all establish that a strip search of a child by school officials is excessively intrusive," the brief states.

The NASW Arizona Chapter, the National Education Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children joined NASW in the brief.

NASW was represented by Jenner & Block, LLP, notably Michael Hoffman and Julie Carpenter.

Amicus Brief Database