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Will DNA ruling’s rationale eventually affect school searches?

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Antonin Scalia

Ah, Antonin Scalia. So often so infuriating to so many — until he has a one of his civil-libertarian moments.

On Monday, Scalia made clear his ire by narrating, from the bench, a scathing dissent he authored to a U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down Monday.

Along with liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, Scalia called the court’s decision to uphold the collection of warrantless DNA samples from criminal suspects “a line that will not last.”

“Today’s judgment will, to be sure, have the beneficial effect of solving more crimes,” Scalia wrote for the minority. “Then again, so would the taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane (surely the Transportation Security Administration needs to know the identity of the flying public), applies for a driver’s license or attends a public school.”

Writing for the majority in Maryland v. King, Justice Anthony Kennedy called DNA testing an important advance in law-enforcement techniques. Like fingerprinting or photography, its use during booking does not violate the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure, the court held.

Past court opinions have upheld “suspicionless searches in public schools — but only because there the government acts in furtherance of its ‘responsibilities … as guardian and tutor of children entrusted to its care.’”

Sotomayor first raised concerns that “mission creep” eventually will result in the screening of schoolchildren when the case was argued in February.

In an opinion in case involving students’ right to a Miranda warning two years ago, Sotomayor expressed concerns about schools’ sometimes too-cozy relationship with law enforcement.

“A student — whose presences at school is compulsory and whose disobedience at school is cause for disciplinary action — is in a far different position than, say, a parent volunteer on school grounds to chaperone an event,” Sotomayor wrote in J.D.B. vs. North Carolina. “With asking whether the person questioned in school is a minor, the coercive effect of the schoolhouse setting is unknowable.” 

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