No Justice For Savana Redding, But At Least They Can't Do It To Your Kids

We've written previously about the horrifying case of Savana Redding, the thirteen year old girl who was strip-searched by officials of the Safford Arizona Unified School District.  Redding's teachers were searching for ibuprofen, under a "zero tolerance" no-drugs policy.

They found nothing.

The earlier Redding post has been among our most popular, not because it was well-written or because it provides a good analysis of the legal issues (it doesn't), but because it was written in a tone of anger and outrage that reflects the feelings many Americans had on reading that school officials felt they could strip-search a teenaged girl as part of their routine duties.

As predicted, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court.  The Court has just issued its opinion, which we've uploaded here: safford-v-redding

Short holding: the strip search did violate the Fourth Amendment (which surprises me – I thought they'd hold it constitutionally permissible), but because Redding's assailants, Kerry Wilson, Helen Romero, and Peggy Schwallier, didn't know under clearly established law at the time that their conduct was illegal, they have qualified immunity and will not face damages.

I maintain that regardless of what Wilson, Romero, and Schwallier knew of the law, common decency should have guided them to the right action, but that's between them and their consciences now, rather than a matter for a court.

Ms. Redding gets nothing but vindication, which she richly deserves.  The brighter side is that in the future, school officials who decide to strip search children looking for trivial contraband such as ibuprofen cannot say that they didn't know their conduct was illegal.  From now on, such child abusers will have to explain themselves, before a jury of parents and fellow citizens.

Of course, for everyone else the maxim that ignorance of the law is no excuse stands, but in this case Redding's assailants get a pass.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. says

    In a more just world, Kerry Wilson, Helen Romero, and Peggy Schwallier would be registered sex offenders now.

  2. says

    Redding isn't wholly without remedy yet; the case was remanded for an examination of the liability of the school district. The factual recitation is pretty interesting, actually, and made me a lot more sympathetic to the Vice-Principal's decision than I expected to be. Not as sympathetic as Justice Thomas, mind you, but more than Justices Ginsburg and Stevens.

  3. Patrick says

    Go back and read the Ninth's en banc decision, if you want a compelling factual narrative. It's linked at the earlier post.

  4. says

    The thing I find most striking about the 9th Circuit decision is the tone of the dissent. As opposed to Thomas, who doesn't seem like he'd mind if random strip searches were used in conjunction with metal detectors as kids entered the building, the en banc dissent at least seems sympathetic to the Savana Reddings of the world, even if they have an exaggerated sense of fear at the dangers of ibuprofen.

  5. David Schwartz says

    Your honors, this search falls under the drugs exception to the fourth amendment. It's an emanation from a penumbra.

  6. Greg says

    Re: "Of course, for everyone else the maxim that ignorance of the law is no excuse stands, but in this case Redding’s assailants get a pass."

    Well, of course. The principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse only applies to private citizens, whom we very reasonably expect to have a lawyer-level expertise in every aspect of every law on the books. Public servants, on the other hand, cannot possibly be expected to be cognizant of the laws that apply to them in their professional capacity.


  1. […] Examples of failed leadership are much easier to find.  Did it really require a decision by the Supreme Court to determine that a 13-year-old can't be stripped searched?  Her suspected crime?  Having Ibuprofen on her person in violation of a "zero" tolerance no drug policy. […]