The court ruled on Thursday that school officials violated the law with their search of Savana Redding, who lives in Safford, in rural eastern Arizona.
Redding, who now attends college, was 13 when officials at Safford Middle School ordered her to remove her clothes and shake out her underwear because they were looking for pills. The district bans prescription and over-the-counter drugs and the school was acting on a tip from another student.
The high court, however, said the officials cannot be held liable in a lawsuit for the search. The justices also said the lower courts would have to determine whether the school district could be held liable.
A schoolmate had accused Redding, then an eighth-grade student, of giving her pills.
The school's vice principal, Kerry Wilson, took Redding to his office to search her backpack. When nothing was found, Redding was taken to a nurse's office where she says she was ordered to take off her shirt and pants. Redding said they then told her to move her bra to the side and to stretch her underwear waistband, exposing her breasts and pelvic area. No pills were found.
A federal magistrate dismissed a suit by Redding and her mother, April. An appeals panel agreed that the search didn't violate her rights. But last July, a full panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the search was "an invasion of constitutional rights" and that Wilson could be found personally liable.
The case is Safford Unified School District v. April Redding, 08-479.