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April 20th, 2009
07:25 PM ET

Students' rights aren't what they used to be

Editor’s Note: See Jeffrey Toobin talk about the newest students' rights case before the U.S. Supreme Court tonight on AC360 at 10PM ET.

Jeffrey Toobin
CNN Senior Legal Analyst

The Supreme Court has struggled with the issue of students’ rights for years. In the 1960s, in the heyday of the liberal Court of Chief Justice Earl Warren, the justices more and more treated students the same way they treated everyone else – as individuals with rights. In one famous case from Des Moines in 1969, a student was thrown out of high school for wearing a black armband to oppose the Vietnam War, but the Court ruled that the student had the right to express himself in this way and ruled against the school.

But times have changed at the Supreme Court. Students have far fewer rights than it once appeared they did. In 1985, the Court ruled that a student caught smoking could have her purse searched.  Last year, in a crazy case out of Alaska, the Court ruled that a student could be suspended for holding a sign that said BONG HiTS 4 JESUS (even though Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the opinion couldn’t say what those words meant).

Tonight we’re talking about another case in which students’ rights are in play.  In October 2003, school officials in a small town in Arizona got a tip that Savana Redding, who was 13-years-old at the time, was carrying prescription drugs to school and used them for non-medical reasons. School authorities first searched Savana’s backpack, then took her to the nurse’s office and conducted a strip search – and found no pills.

Her family sued the school district. Can a search like this one be illegal? Do students have any rights at all? We’ll discuss tonight.


Filed under: Jeffrey Toobin • Supreme Court
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