Today, in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders, the Supreme Court held that detention officials may strip-search any person arrested for any reason, if that person is being held in the same room as other people. They offered as rationale only the notion that judges do not know how to run a jail, and shouldn’t underestimate the difficulty of doing so. Given that, it would apparently be irresponsible to require any level of reasonable suspicion before a strip search is allowed.
I’d been waiting for this decision for a while, and when I heard the ruling I really hoped there was more to this case. I respect most of the conservative Justices (those in the majority here), particularly Roberts and Scalia, and I really wanted there to be some obscure legal justification that would validate that respect.
There isn’t. If there was, SCOTUSBlog’s incomparable Lyle Denniston would have found it.The majority abdicated its responsibility to enforce (or even, it seems, to read) the Fourth Amendment. There is no other word for this decision than “disgrace.” Justices Thomas, Alito, Scalia, Roberts, and most of all Kennedy, you should be ashamed.
The one bright spot I see in this particular case is that the ruling is amenable to legislative remedy–it articulates merely a constitutional permission, rather than a constitutional duty. Right-minded states may enact statutory prohibitions on unreasonable searches (i.e., searches that are not founded on any reasonable suspicion). The federal government, it seems, already follows a more rational set of rules. Florence may, therefore, end up being less destructive than other recent misapplications of the law (I refer to Citizens United, which appears to require remedy by constitutional amendment). It remains, however, a gross miscarriage of justice, and may be expected to take its place in the pantheon of the Court’s most absurd and embarrassing decisions.