Thursday, July 2, 2009

Qualified Immunity: Safford Unified Sch. Dist. #1 v. Redding, 129 S.Ct. 2633 (2009)

Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding, 129 S.Ct. 2633 (2009) The Supreme Court has held that school officials can search students on school premises if they have a reasonable suspicion a boy or girl possesses drugs. But the scope of the search cannot include removing a student's clothing to confirm the report. In Safford the Ninth Circuit had prohibited this kind of search (mis characterized as a "strip search") but denied the school principal and his staff qualified immunity on grounds the search was prohibited by "clearly established Constitutional law." The Supreme Court reversed, informing the Ninth Circuit that these intensive searches were not "clearly established" and the staff were entitled to qualified immunity. The Ninth Circuit easily evades Supreme Court rulings on a test comparable to this. Under Supreme Court jurisprudence, in order to immunize public officials for conduct in the course of their duties, they must have violated "clearly established a Constitutional law," i.e., in Safford a Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches. When a court invokes the phrase "clearly established Constitutional law" it can achieve any conclusion on the facts. Which is precisely what the Ninth Circuit routinely does. The federal courts, and the Ninth Circuit in particular, supervise public schools and inform them of approved federal practices; manage the Los Angles Police Dept.; manage State prisons; manage hospitals; supervise jails; know what's better about naval warfare training tactics, and informs defense counsel of appropriate tactics in trial. Of course the Ninth Circuit knew the search in Safford was unreasonable and a "clearly established" violation of a Constitutional provision. Until the Supreme Court told the court it was wrong. Although the Supreme Court did prohibit the search in Safford, as did the Ninth Circuit, it reversed that court, again, on the issue of qualified immunity.

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