Albert Florence, the plaintiff in Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders
Numerous progressive commentators are lambasting the Supreme Court for its 5-4 ruling yesterday in Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders,
and rightfully so. The 5-judge conservative faction held that prison
officials may strip-search anyone arrested even for the most minor
offenses before admitting them to the general population of a jail or
prison, even in the absence of a shred of suspicion that they are
carrying weapons or contraband.
The plaintiff in this case had been erroneously arrested for outstanding bench warrants for an unpaid fine that he had actually paid, and was twice subjected to forced strip searches; he sued, claiming a violation of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. In essence, the Florence ruling grants prison officials license to subject every single arrested individual entering the general prison population to humiliating and highly invasive strip searches (that's 13 million people every year, with hugely disproportionately minority representation), based on the definitive police state mentality -- one that has been applied over and over -- that isolated risks justify the most sweeping security measures. This policy has been applied to those arrested for offenses such as dog leash laws, peaceful protests, and driving with an expired license.
What virtually none of this anti-Florence commentary mentioned, though, was that the Obama DOJ formally urged the Court to reach the conclusion it reached. While the Obama administration and court conservatives have been at odds in a handful of high-profile cases (most notably Citizens United and the health care law), this is yet another case, in a long line, where the Obama administration was able to have its preferred policies judicially endorsed by getting right-wing judges to embrace them:
"In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled that in the interest of security, prisons could conduct visual body cavity searches of all detainees after they had contact with outsiders. For years after that ruling, lower courts ruled that the prison had to have a reasonable suspicion that the arrestee was concealing contraband before subjecting him to a strip search upon entering the facility.
"But in recent years, some courts have begun to allow a blanket policy to strip search all arrestees.
"The Obama administration is siding with the prisons in the case and urging the court to allow a blanket policy for all inmates set to enter the general prison population.
"'When you have a rule that treats everyone the same,' Justice Department lawyer Nicole A. Saharsky argued, 'you don't have folks that are singled out. You don't have any security gaps.'"
Read this entire article at Salon