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Get Set to Get Naked: SCOTUS Authorizes Strip Searches for Every Arrest

Spread 'em: Supreme Court conservatives yesterday authorized prison officials to strip search anyone they arrest, no matter how minor the infraction.

Albert Florence of New Jersey was arrested by a state trooper for an outstanding arrest warrant for failure to pay a traffic fine. Florence had the receipt for the payment of his fine in his car, but the cop still took hauled him to jail, where he was held wrongly for seven days and strip-searched twice.

Recall: Kristi Noem had two such arrest warrants related to her traffic violations, and they were legit. She never got hauled to jail or strip-searched. She could be now.

Florence sued, arguing his search was unreasonable. But in this case, five Supreme Court justices say the needs of the few (jailers) outweigh the needs of the many (citizens innocent until proven guilty):

Writing for the court's conservative wing, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that jails are "often crowded, unsanitary, and dangerous places," and that, therefore, the courts must defer to the judgment of correctional officials in order to prevent new inmates from putting lives at risk with weapons or contraband that they may "carry in on their bodies."

...Kennedy said that given the number of total arrests each year — 13 million — it would be unworkable for correctional officials to exempt one class of prisoner from strip searches. Indeed, he added, even people detained for minor offenses can turn out to be "the most devious and dangerous criminals." He cited, for instance, the case of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, who was detained initially for driving without a license plate [Nina Totenberg, "Supreme Court OKs Strip Searches for Minor Offenses," NPR: All Things Considered, 2012.04.02].

Indeed, Justice Kennedy, because Timothy McVeigh kept his 5000 pounds of fertilizer hidden in his underpants.

I'm not the only one alarmed by the un-Vulcan logic of this decision:

Bernard Harcourt, a law professor at the University of Chicago, however, called the decision "frightening ... the kind of logic that can turn a democracy into a police state" because it is premised on the notion of eliminating all risk at the expense of those who reasonably pose little risk [Totenberg, 2012.04.02].

New blog neighbor Terry Sohl rails the obvious conservative contradictions on intrusive government:

The story itself is maddening, but the reason I started this post wasn't even so much the ruling itself, but because of 1) the complete hypocrisy from the conservative judges on the bench, and 2) that yet again, we have a SCOTUS decision that's perfectly split between "conservative" and "liberal" judges. Republicans bitch and moan about government interference in people's lives...but yet they seem to have NO problem with the infringement on basic human rights and dignity in a case like this. Republicans act indignant about ObamaCare, saying government has gone "too far" and intruded into peoples' lives, but they have NO problem having a completely innocent man being jailed and twice strip-searched, just because he MIGHT have been a criminal. Given the comments that Roberts and others made last week during the ObamaCare arguments, don't you think they'd feel just a wee bit hypocritical for giving a thumbs up to an even bigger intrusion of government into peoples' lives? [Terry Sohl, "Yet Another 5-4 Decision—Strip Searches," Feathers and Folly, 2012.04.02]

Welcome to the police state. Drop your pants.


  1. Steve Sibson 2012.04.03

    So Cory, welcome to the anti-government Tea Party!!

  2. Anna 2012.04.03

    But at least Albert Florence won't be forced to buy health insurance, right?

  3. Bill Fleming 2012.04.03

    Well, they practically strip search you to get on an airplane, don't they? There is a way to fight this, but most people won't do it. But until they do laws like this and worse will stand.

  4. Steve Sibson 2012.04.03

    The king socialist now going anti-government. Boy Bill, I must be rubbing off. Its about time.

  5. Mark 2012.04.03

    On its face, this decision rankles a lot of sensibilities. Given the described facts, I suspect Mr. Florence will get a decent and deserved settlement for his apparent false arrest.

    I also suspect if Prof. Harcourt were to spend 24 hours at the Cook County Jail as an observer, that he might be amazed at the creative and disgusting ways prisoners hide all manner of contraband. He just might conclude that keeping inmates and corrections staff safe and secure is also a bona fide way to keep the rest of us safe, secure --- and free.
    Detention centers are scary environments, at times detached from anarchy only by the strictures of the contained "police state."
    I'm personally not a subject matter expert on this, but were I to be wrongfully incarcerated, I'd rather suffer the indignity (and get redress and "redressed" later) of having to bare it all rather than be put in a population with some bad guys with attitudes and weapons.
    I know there are legitimate and well-articulated concerns about civil liberties. And it's a true public service for you and others to facilitate a discussion about this. It's important stuff and worthy of our discussion. And, it seems to me, it's important to strike a balance.
    Some, perhaps in the well-intentioned zeal for freedom are a little too quick to embrace the "anti-government Tea Party" and that could lead to something that's also bad for society....anarchy.

  6. Erin 2012.04.03

    I'm still alarmed at this, but I can somewhat understand the need to keep prisons as safe as possible. What I find most alarming is that someone can be jailed (and I don't care if it's a week or five minutes) for an unpaid traffic fine...and that it took the police a whole flipping week to realize the guy had actually paid the fine. To me, that is a true police state.

  7. Mark 2012.04.03

    Good point, Erin.

  8. Mark 2012.04.03

    Bill, while flying is definitely not fun anymore. But you certainly agree that the government needs to do something to screen out the bad guys and that it's just a matter of how they're going about it?

  9. Bill Fleming 2012.04.03

    No, Sibby, you're not. I was a militant, passive-resistance, freedom-fighting human rights advocate when you were still a dope-smokin', pill-poppin', head- bangin', satanic-rock-lovin', heathen musician. And you're still just now coming off of it. LOL.

  10. Mark 2012.04.03

    Public policy. Public good. Civil liberties. Tough calls, especially in a a free society. Don't like to go through the TSA screen, but I do it. Admittedly it's not perfect in ensuring security. But I wouldn't want to be on a hijacked aircraft either. So, if this doesn't graduate to mandated strip searches for airline travel, I going to hold off on investing in my franchise teleconferencing business. I'll admit, I'm starting to obsess about "Every Breath You Take."

  11. Bill Fleming 2012.04.03

    Mark, if I I understand the situation correctly, the SCOTUS decision is a result of Mr. Florence's unsuccessful attempt to sue the authorities. There will be no settlement to him forthcoming, nor will anyone else be able to expect to obtain justice if something like this happens to them, because the Supreme arbiters of our nation have spoken. It's a red flag.

  12. Mark 2012.04.03

    Bill and Erin: I put my two-cents in w/o the benefit of the whole picture. I did not read the decision. I apologize for speaking w/o really knowing what I'm talking about. What you're describing is outrageous. Doing the right thing should be the first duty of government. When they mess up, they should pay up. Having said that, I still stand by my basic contention - but I'm open to being persuaded to the contrary. By the by, who picked you to be the "king socialist"? I find you to be the voice of reason, and entertaining at that. Must read the decision. Slan.

  13. Troy Jones 2012.04.03

    Two issues being discussed:

    Does one's alleged crime affect whether a strip search is allowed? The SCOTUS ruled no.

    Did a potential injustice occur to Mr.Florence? Not the subject of the ruling.

  14. Bill Fleming 2012.04.03

    LOL. No worries Mark. Let's compare notes once you've had the benefit of more research. As to the "king socialist" thingy, that's just Mr. Sibsom expressing himself once again via his nether reaches.

  15. Steve Sibson 2012.04.03

    So Bill, what caused you to change?

  16. Bill Fleming 2012.04.03

    Okay. Just be sure to wear clean shorts then Mr. Jones. ;^)

  17. Bill Fleming 2012.04.03

    Sibby, change what? My shorts?

  18. Bill Fleming 2012.04.03

    Hey Larry, how many Sibbys does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
    (This oughta be good. LOL)

  19. larry kurtz 2012.04.03

    Isn't this really deterrence aimed right at dissidents and the Occupy protesters? Imagine strip searching George Clooney following his arrest, for instance. The Court left the door open for individual litigants to sort out the abuses.

    Repealing the "Patriot" Act would go a long way to erasing the precedent to cases like this one.

  20. Steve Sibson 2012.04.03

    Bill, your are a socialist, not a freedom fighter. Civil rights? Not for babies and Christians. How did you go from a freedom fighting Tea Party type to an anti-Tea Party type?

  21. larry kurtz 2012.04.03

    Just one, Bill: as long as the replacement light bulb was manufactured in the 1950s.

  22. Steve Sibson 2012.04.03

    Bill, you guys on the looney left are so funny. You push for big government and when it gives the rich more monopoly power and regulate the little out of his freedom, you want more government. Stick to light bulbs Bill, but use the environmental ones that have mercury in them.

  23. Troy Jones 2012.04.03

    In the end, with regard to the strip search part, this is how this will end:

    Jurisdictions will set a policy for mandatory strip searches, discretionary strip searches. The flexibility they have will be to inform people choosing not to be strip searched that they will be placed with others who were not strip searched and may have contraband on their body not discovered. Personally, I will choose to be strip searched so I am assured of not being placed with people who could be a threat to me.

    P.S. I spent a night in jail for not paying a traffic ticket. Neither pleasant nor something I want to do again.

  24. Steve Sibson 2012.04.03

    My previous comment goes to you too Larry.

  25. Bill Fleming 2012.04.03

    Because the Tea Party doesn't care one whit about liberty, Sibby.

    If you are advocating that the State has a right to impose itself on the contents of a woman's uterus and force her to do things she doesn't want done, you are advocating for a totalitarian police state, pure and simple.

    If you are advocating for unbridled capitalism, you are arguing for tyranny of those who accumulate the most wealth.

    If you are arguing that the constitution and justice is only for, and about those who conform to your particular brand of Christianity, you are arguing for a Supremacist Theology.

    None of these has anything to do with liberty.

  26. Steve Sibson 2012.04.03

    "contents of a woman’s uterus"

    the contents is a human that deserves civil rights too

    "If you are advocating for unbridled capitalism"

    That is corporate socialism caused by government

    "Supremacist Theology"

    That would be your New Age Theocracy where evolution creates god-like citizens.

    Now you understand that none of constitute liberty?

  27. larry kurtz 2012.04.03

    This ruling says that strip-searching a woman in her third trimester is an just an option and not a requirement for the arresting jurisdiction, right?

  28. Bill Fleming 2012.04.03

    It's your brain, Sibby. You unscramble it. I'm tired of worrying about it.

  29. Steve Sibson 2012.04.03

    I love it when the debate ends with Fleming's personal attacks.

  30. larry kurtz 2012.04.03

    How much do you love it, Steve: pathologically?

  31. Bill Fleming 2012.04.03

    Steve, your whole argument on government is based on people who don't exist. To achieve your ideological state you exclude everyone except the chimeras of your mind both good and evil and lock them in an imagined irreconcilable conflict

    Such is the consequence of your rejection of materialism. You need to come back to the real world. Then maybe you can find a way carry on a sustained, sane conversation. Until then, it's prety much a lost cause with you, man.

  32. larry kurtz 2012.04.03

    "At the same time, the Court was careful to note that the strip search policies it upheld did not involve any physical contact with the detainee, and only applied to detainees who were housed with the general population." ACLU.

  33. Steve Sibson 2012.04.03

    "How much do you love it"

    Larry, it proves I won the debate. The sad part is how an unity focused monist can carry so much hate and bigotry.

  34. tonyamert 2012.04.03

    The litigant picked the wrong fight here. He should have gone after the police department and the court system arresting him due to their poor record keeping.

    Once you're in custody it's the state's responsibility to protect your well being. If you get injured in jail you have standing to go after the state. To protect you while in custody the state must inspect the people that they put together. This can be done either by strip search or x-ray. I suppose one could opt for an x-ray but the obvious cancer risks make it a poor choice. The other option would be to put each prisoner in complete isolation but I would find that to be more cruel than the strip search.

    The court made the correct decision here.

  35. Douglas Wiken 2012.04.03

    This is an absurd SCOTUS decision. They should be strip searched every time they walk into the Supreme Court Building for their own safety.

    Part of the court excuse for this ruling was over-crowded jails or jails unable to separate offenders with minor or imagined offenses from thugs, rapists, murders, etc. The court should have established rules for imprisonment similar to the decision that forced California to improve prison conditions. This is an irresponsible court decision.

  36. Bill Fleming 2012.04.03

    Sibby can't tell the difference between himself and his arguments. That's why he takes ridicule of his arguments personally. He should get over it. He gets in his own way by getting plugged in emotionally and projecting his anger and spite on others.

  37. Jana 2012.04.03

    So much for state's rights and international treaties.

    The ruling overturns current law in 10 states forbidding the practice and is in violation of international treaties.

    So let's say a nun is arrested protesting at an abortion clinic, a Wisconsin State Capital or an occupy rally...the SCOTUS is saying that there is no law that prohibits them from being strip searched.

    What a clever way of stifling free speech and peaceful protest. It's one thing to get arrested for civil disobedience, it's a completely different thing to be strip searched in public before you are even found guilty, let alone formally charged.

    I have to admit to wanting to use the GOP weapon of choice, the transvaginal ultrasound device, and insert it in a few of the GOP 5's nether regions to see exactly where their brains are at.

  38. Jim Hock 2012.04.03

    I have to disagree with a lot of you on this.
    He sued for the wrong reason, he should have went after the police for not letting him present evidence of innocence to have prevented the whole situation.
    This is not saying that the officer who detains you from the street or wherever is going to strip search you. This is reinforcing a common practice before an overnight stay in most jails/prisons. They are saying the prison guards are allowed to do this to insure the safety of all prisoners and staff in the facility. They are not paid to be trusting. Try taking the guard's side of this argument, they don't know if you intentionally put yourself in this situation to bring in contraband/weapons for some other inmate. The search is a precautionary measure.

  39. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.04

    Jim, I don't see the "overnight" aspect of this ruling. Does the majority opinion specify that criterion? It seems to me that the justices are saying that safety concerns allow police to strip search anyone in their custody. If I might have contraband in my underpants, I'm a threat in the jail cell, in the police station, even in the car. What in this logic of protecting police and others prevents zealous officers from applying it anywhere they have someone in cuffs?

    Larry and Jana point toward the ominous First Amendment aspect of this ruling. It's one thing to ask civil disobedients to suffer the "indignity" of being hauled away in cuffs before the TV cameras and getting booked and fingerprinted. It's another to ask protesters to face being hauled into a private room and stripped naked before unsympathetic guards. Like pepper spray against non-violent protesters, this ruling imposes another chilling effect on dissent against government oppression.

  40. Steve Sibson 2012.04.04

    "That’s why he takes ridicule of his arguments personally."

    BIll, I said I loved it because it shows I won the debate. You are being deceptive yet again.

    Cory, again welcome to the anti-government Tea Party.

  41. Steve Sibson 2012.04.04

    "Because the Tea Party doesn’t care one whit about liberty, Sibby."

    So Bill, what is your take on the 1946 Catholic piece that calls liberty a cult?

  42. Troy Jones 2012.04.04

    I get the free speech argument. But, there is another side:

    Getting hauled off in cuffs and then getting put in a holding cell with potentially dangerous people who could hurt me could have a more chilling effect on free speech.

    Personally, it is not loss of my dignity I fear when in jail as much as I do the potential co-inmate.

    P.S. I'm all for strict protocols and procedures with regard to strip searches. Just don't want law enforcement to sacrifice their safety and others in their custody.

  43. larry kurtz 2012.04.04

    Sometimes it looks like SCOTUS ceremoniously upholds false equivalence. It's important to remember that the US is under attack right now albeit from those trying to free us from ourselves.

    I confess that if these rulings were coming under an earth hater President I would be in the streets.

  44. LK 2012.04.04

    I'm not a lawyer, although I do want to play one on TV.

    I humbly suggest that he issue here is not the 1st amendment, but the 4th: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures . . . "

    There should be probably cause for the search. I would suggest that there's little probable cause for a person with no history of violence who is hauled in for not paying 100 parking tickets.

    I am frustrated once again by the Tea Party selective outrage. The same safety argument that can be made about this ruling can be made about concealed handguns. In fact, I would be more on guard in a jail than I am in public.

    I hope Troy is right and that protocols will be in place and followed. That being said, there are enough news stories about places where protocols are ignored to give me pause.

    The 4th amendment is just as important as the 2nd. Yet, Tea Party folk are silent on this ruling and outraged that they can't pretend they are in Dodge City and hide a gun under a duster.

  45. Troy Jones 2012.04.04

    LK: If they are ignored, one has plenty of cause to pursue remedies. All the Supreme Court said is "if you are arrested and can be held, local law enforcement has the perogative ot do a strip search without regard to the crime.

    Regarding probably cause, being charged with an offense for which you can be held and are placed where others safety is exposed is enough for me. If my daughter were stabbed while in jail, I'm not sure the fact the person was there over parking tickets would be any consolation.

  46. LK 2012.04.04

    If my daughter is shot by a nut cuse who was allowed to carry a gun merely because he or she had a drivers license, I'm not sure I'd care if they carried the gun legally

  47. Bill Fleming 2012.04.04

    My take on your link, Sibby is that it puts the cart before the horse. Don't want to interrupt the conversation here to go into it. Maybe some more appropriate time?

  48. Bill Fleming 2012.04.04

    Sib, I will however add here (because I think it pertains to the thread) Kris Kristofferson's famous line from his song "Me and Bobby McGee," to wit: "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

  49. Steve Sibson 2012.04.04

    "Don’t want to interrupt the conversation"

    You do that often Bill. I understand that you do not want to address the truth, it destroys your pro-socialist worldview position that is secretly part of your religious upbringing.

  50. larry kurtz 2012.04.04

    No illness should keep someone from running for office, hiding a knife in your rectum, or carrying a firearm.

  51. Bill Fleming 2012.04.04

    Here's exactly how "socialist" I am, Sibby.

    Like Abraham Lincoln, my wish is that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.

    Further, I believe that we are all created equal and have certain [natural] unalienable rights (liberty being one of them).

    And I believe that We the People of the United States of America should uphold its Constitution "in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."

    If that makes me a "socialist", so be it.

    Any other questions?

  52. Steve Sibson 2012.04.04

    Bill, you want to take liberty from the working class and give it to sluggards. You want to pass debt onto "Posterity" and take their liberty away.

  53. larry kurtz 2012.04.04

    Workplace deaths are highest in "right-to-work" states. Trade unions offer health insurance now that employers can deny full coverage on religious grounds.

    Dairy workers: organize!

  54. Bill Fleming 2012.04.04

    Sibby, the1st Amendment says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

    Trade unions are people, assembling peacefully and petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. Some of their members may indeed be sluggards, but that's not the point. So are some of their bosses. And to try to pass laws to silence workers and prevent them from collective bargaining is anti-American and unconstitutional.

    Boy, you sure have your head up your ass about some of this stuff, Sib.

    What's the matter with you?

  55. Steve Sibson 2012.04.04

    Bill, I did not call the working class sluggards. I am saying they are being taxed (and yes paying union dues too) so that welfare sluggards (who don't work) can have cell phones, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs etc.

  56. Bill Fleming 2012.04.04

    Have you ever read this, Sibby? Maybe you should:

    It's an essay In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell.

    Here's an excerpt:

    "I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.

    First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders, but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two organized bodies of men; this is called politics. "

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