Green light for abuse

Court’s strip-search decision goes beyond reasonableness

What is the likelihood that someone arrested for, say, failure to pay a fine is secreting drugs or a weapon in his anal cavity and should be strip-searched? Who in his right mind goes around with such items stuck up his nether regions?

And yet this week the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, decreed that law enforcement officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, no matter how minor. This is the same court, mind you, that last week was so eager to protect American “liberties” against the threat of compulsory broccoli purchases.

The case involved a New Jersey man named Albert Florence, a finance executive for a car dealership. In 2005 he was in the passenger seat of his BMW when a state trooper pulled over his wife for speeding. A records search showed an outstanding warrant based on an unpaid fine. (As it turned out, the information was wrong; the fine had been paid.)

Florence was held in jails in two counties for a week and strip-searched twice, including being made to stand naked in front of a guard. “Turn around,” he later recalled being told by jail officials, according to The New York Times. “Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks. … It was humiliating. It made me feel less than a man.”

As Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out in his dissent, people have been strip-searched after getting arrested for a noisy muffler, not using a turn signal and not having a proper bell on a bicycle. A nun was strip-searched after being arrested in an anti-war protest.

As The New York Times reports, “the procedures endorsed by the majority are forbidden by statute in at least 10 states and are at odds with the policies of federal authorities. … [I]nternational treaties also bar the procedures.”

Jailers need to be able to control what comes into their facilities, but this decision goes far beyond anything that is reasonable. It gives a green light to abusive state power. Just ask the nun.