Buried in the middle of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s opinion rejecting a limit on strip searches of new inmates is this sentence: “Hours after the Oklahoma City bombing, Timothy McVeigh was stopped by a state trooper who noticed he was driving without a licence plate.”
It was the most striking example of why Kennedy and the Supreme Court’s four other Conservative-minded judges voted in a 5-4 opinion to place no limits on what civil liberties groups considered invasive strip searches on new inmates.
Writing the majority opinion, Kennedy considered it “unworkable” to enforce different standards for different kinds of criminals because the purported seriousness of the offence does not correlate with whether that person is a violent or dangerous criminal.
“The record provides evidence that the seriousness of an offence is a poor predictor of who has contraband and that it would be difficult in practice to determine whether individual detainees fall within the proposed exemption,” Kennedy wrote.
The case, Florence vs. Board of Chosen Freeholders of Burlington County, was the challenge of a New Jersey man that had been arrested for a fine after a highway stop and held in jail for six days. He was released after he displayed that the fine had already been paid, because of a mistake in state records. Upon entering the jail, he was strip-searched twice, something for which he sued for a violation of privacy.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote the dissenting opinion, concurred by — surprise! — the rest of the court’s liberals.
He wrote, in part: “A strip search that involves a stranger peering without consent at a naked individual, and in particular at the most private portions of that person’s body, is a serious invasion of privacy.”
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