Thursday, June 25, 2009

He's nothing if not consistent...

That Clarence Thomas holds a seat on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States is something that makes my blood boil. He is without a doubt the worst High Court justice in my lifetime; I don't know enough of the history of the Supreme Court to make any assertion past that, but I have to think he's in the running for top five all-time worst.

Proving this once again, The Honorable "Is-that-a-pubic-hair-on-your-coke" Justice Thomas is the lone dissenting opinion in Safford Unified School District vs. Redding. If you aren't familiar with the background, here's the gist: school officials were tipped off by a student that another student was in possession of some ibuprofen and naproxen (the ibuprofen was a prescription-strength pill, the naproxen over-the-counter). These alleged drugs would have been a violation of the school's drug policy, had they existed. School officials brought the 13 year old girl to the office and searched her bag, her pockets, etc., which yielded no drugs. Then she was taken to the nurses office, where she was told to strip to her underwear. From the majority opinion (the whole can be found here): "Finally, Savana was told to pull her bra out and to the side and shake it, and to pull the elastic on her underpants, thus exposing her breasts and pelvic area to some degree. No pills were found".

The majority clearly identifies that this is an unconstitutional search-- not least in part, in my opinion, that they were operating off of an allegation from another student. The idea that school-age children can bring down invasive strip searches on their peers is idiocy-- the fact that the alleged drugs were never found makes this painfully obvious. That the alleged drugs were normal pain relievers contributed to the unreasonableness of the search. As Justice Souter wrote for the majority, "what was missing from the suspected facts that pointed to Savana was any indication of danger to the students from power of the drugs or their quantity, and any reason to suspect Savana was carrying pills in her underwear. We think the combination of these deficiencies was fatal to finding the search reasonable". Especially so, since the "adolescent vulnerability intensifies the patent intrusiveness of the exposure".

Thomas's dissent (also found in the linked document above) is based around the argument that any kind of search is reasonable (given some kind of "reasonable suspicion") if it is conducted only in places were the contraband could be hidden. His logic is that since you could hide pills in your crotch, school officials could look there (there's even a pretty weird part of the dissent where he cites several incidences of people hiding drugs in their underwear... I'll refrain from snark and you let you imagine your own). He contends that school officials, parents, and local governments are all "better suited than judges to determine the appropriate limits on searches". Wait, what? Isn't upholding and interpreting the Fourth Amendment a judicial bailiwick? Where's the logic in school administrators deciding if their actions are reasonable in cases like this? Is it only different because it is a school? Granted, the court has held that there are slightly different rules in schools, but the Constitution doesn't end at the school's door. This seems like a completely ideological decision on his part, and the opinion contains a strange line in its last paragraph-- "By doing so [finding the search unconstitutional], the majority has confirmed that a return to the doctrine of in loco parentis is required to keep the judiciary from essentially seizing control of public schools". Seriously? Are you trying to make Scalia and Alito look reasonable or something?