Safford United School District v. Redding:
Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Safford United School District v. Redding, a Fourth Amendment case involving an 8th grader who was strip-searched for prescription drugs believed to have been wrongly brought to school. The lower court opinion is here; Petitioner's brief is here; the Respondent's brief is here; and the amicus brief of the United States is here.

  Although I generally try to follow all the Supreme Court's Fourth Amendment cases pretty closely, this is the kind of case that I find easy to ignore. As a general rule, I find Fourth Amendment "special needs" cases really boring. The law expressly requires the Court to apply a general Fourth Amendment balancing of interests, which isn't analytically very interesting: You just have a vote around the table for who thinks the government should be allowed to do that, and whichever side gets to 5 is the winner. There isn't a lot to it.

  Anyway, my prediction is that the Supreme Court will agree with the Ninth Circuit that the strip searches here are unconstitutional. A majority will conclude that a strip search is far more invasive than a search of property like a locker, and that the school couldn't submit the student to such a humiliating and invasive search in these circumstances without good reason to think the banned items would be there. I would agree with that conclusion, I should add: I think the school's conduct was plainly unreasonable.

  The trickier question to me is whether qualified immunity should nonetheless apply. The QI test is so context-sensitive that answer that that would require a closer look at the lower court cases than I have interest in providing. Finally, I would expect the Court to reach the merits in this case: Even though the Court now has the discretion to reach the qualified immunity issue without addressing the Fourth Amendment merits, see Pearson v. Callahan, I would think they will reach the merits given the importance of the question.