The Constitution Still Applies to Children: Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding

In the past week the United States Supreme Court has decided a number of important cases. Two of them have received the most attention. One was Ricci v. DiStefano, decided June 29, 2009 which is noteworthy because it both a) involved a complex reverse discrimination issue and b) overruled a decision of Supreme Court nominee Judge Sotomayor. The other was Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, decided June 25, 2009, which was a landmark interpretation of the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause as applied to the certificates of analysis used by prosecutors in drug and DWI cases.

Another important opinion was issued on June 25th in the case of Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding, also known as the "middle school strip search case". The facts of the Safford case were outrageous: a 13 year old middle school girl was brought from her classroom to the assistant principal's office. She was interrogated there by a male assistant principal. The assistant principal and his administrative assistant searched the girl's backpack and found no contraband. The girl continuously denied having any contraband.

The two school employees accused her of distributing pills in the school and confronted her with 5 pills (one of which was an over the counter ibuprofen pill). The young girl denied any knowledge of the pills. The assistant principal then ordered that the girl be brought to the school nurse's office to be searched for pills.

Once inside the nurse's office, the school nurse and the administrative assistant ordered the girl to remove her outer clothing and they searched it, finding nothing. The school officials then ordered the girl to pull her bra out and shake it as they watched, which exposed the girl's breasts, but again exposed no pills. The school officials then ordered the 13 year old to pull out the elastic on her panties which exposed her pelvic area to the school's henchmen. This too revealed nothing. After this humiliating series of searches was concluded, the school officials did not bring the girl back to her classroom. They did not call her mother. Instead they left her sitting on a bench outside the assistant prinicpal's office for two hours after the strip search had concluded.

In Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding, the Supreme Court ruled that this outrageous strip search violated the Fourth Amendment. In a major victory for the privacy rights of all citizens, but particularly some of the most vulnerable to privacy intrusions, this opinion establishes, at least, that the government cannot extend the battlefield in its "War on Drugs" to a 13 year old's underwear.

Mark Stevens

Mark Stevens
5 Manor Parkway
Salem, NH 03079
Tel 603-893-0074







  1. I hope the parenst sued the people that strip searched the kid!

  2. The case that ended up in the Supreme Court actually began as a lawsuit by the young girl's mom against the school district.