September 16, 2011

Emory Law students' brief joins U.S. Supreme Court case

The Emory Law School Supreme Court Advocacy Project has filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court concerning jail inmate strip searches, which students argue violate the Fourth Amendment. The case is set for oral arguments Oct. 12 before the high court.

The amicus brief filed in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders asks "whether the Fourth Amendment permits a jail to conduct a suspicionless strip search of every individual arrested for any minor offense no matter what the circumstances." One reason cited as justification is to prevent the spread of MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant staph infection, as well as other skin diseases.

That's a bogus claim, according to the brief presented by Emory's year-old, student-run clinic, launched by Kedar Bhatia '13L.

While screening to prevent the spread of disease is valid, the brief argues screening should be performed by qualified medical professionals, not by corrections officers during intake.

Encouraging complacency

Using medical reasons as a "cover" for the searches may lead prison officials to complacently believe medical problems have been taken care of, says Bradley Brockmann, executive director of the Center for Prison Health and Human Rights in an article published Sept. 9 in the Fulton County Daily Report.

"A strip search conducted by non-medical personnel for security purposes has little connection to the procedures used during a bona fide skin exam," the brief reads. "Such searches undermine, or at least distract from, consistent policies to address the root cause of infectious disease epidemics in correctional facilities."

The brief was signed by Emory Law's K.H. Gyr Professor in Private International Law David J. Bederman, who has argued four cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and worked with students on the brief. He said the focus on medical justification went beyond just a "me-too" brief. It was also strengthened by the Emory's connections with the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"I was blown away by the brief," says Thomas Goldstein of Goldstein & Russell in Washington, who will argue for case for Albert Florence, who challenged the strip search by officers in New Jersey. "I was amazed that the students found the clients, organized the argument and wrote the brief."

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