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Court rules underwear search for ibuprofen is unconstitutional

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 (Justice Thomas the lone dissenter) that searching a 13 year-old's underwear for ibuprofen constituted an illegal search contrary to the Fourth Amendment.  Middle School officials had strip-searched the girl after another student suggested that she might be the source of prescription-strenght ibuprofen taken by another student. 

The pills were the equivalent of two Advils and the Court concluded that a strip-search under these circumstances--with no suggestion of a real risk to student safety--was a violation of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable search or seizure.  The majority said that searching the girl's backpack and outer clothing was not inappropriate, but asking to search her underwear "went too far." 

Justice Thomas thinks this decision will cause students to secrete contraband in their underwear:  we think that if that's true (and we doubt that most middle school students are that conversant with constitutional law) it is still better than allowing allowing strip-searches in cases where there is no suggestion that the alleged contraband presents a risk to students. 

The majority also ruled that the administrator involved  [or the school's insurer on his behalf] would not be legally liable to pay damages  to the girl, because the law was not clear enough to result in a waiver of immunity.  Justices Stephens and Ginsburg dissented from that conclusion.  The lower courts will have to decide if the School District is immune from the "abusive" search, based on a determination of whether the search resulted from a school policy.

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