Savana Redding, a 13-year-old, was subjected to a strip search at her middle school to determine if she was the source of ibuprofen pills among some fellow students. With Savana traumatized and humiliated by the search — which found no drugs — her mother sued the school district, the Vice Principal who gave the order, and the staff who conducted the search. Today, the Supreme Court relented in its assault on the rights of students by holding the strip search of Savana Redding unconstitutional.
The Court’s decision in Safford v. Redding regarding the constitutionality of the search, joined by every justice except Clarence Thomas, recognizes not only Savana Redding’s account of her search as embarrassing, frightening and humiliating but that adolescent vulnerability intensifies the exposure’s patent intrusiveness.
However, the Court denied Savana recourse for the unconstitutional humiliation she suffered. The majority determined that the school officials had immunity from liability because the law regarding school searches was not “clearly established.” As Justices Ginsburg and Stevens point out, the Court ignored its own precedent in reaching that determination. The Court has clearly stated that a school search “crosses the constitutional boundary if it becomes ‘excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction.’” As Justice Ginsburg bluntly states, “[The official’s] treatment of [Savana] was abusive and it was not reasonable for him to believe that the law permitted it.” Justice Stevens noted that this is “a case in which clearly established law meets clearly outrageous conduct.”
While today’s decision was not an unqualified triumph for Savana Redding, she has secured a victory for schoolchildren nationwide. Her battle to vindicate her own rights has led the Supreme Court to issue a ‘clearly established’ ruling securing the constitutional right of millions of American students to be free from a humiliating, unjustified and unreasonable strip search.