On The Front Lines


U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Case of Student Subjected to Random Lockdown and Mass Search By Police in Public School


October 08, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The U.S. Supreme Court has denied the Rutherford Institute’s petition for a writ of certiorari in the case Burlison v. Springfield Public Schools, a case brought by attorneys for The Rutherford Institute on behalf of a student at a Missouri school who was subjected to a random lockdown and mass search by police. Warning against the long-term ramifications of treating young people as if they have no rights, The Rutherford Institute had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the use of random lockdowns, mass searches and drug-sniffing dogs in the public schools to be unconstitutional in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable seizures.

In appealing the case to the high court, Rutherford Institute attorneys challenged a Missouri school district’s policy of imposing a “lockdown” of the school for the purpose of allowing the local sheriff’s department, aided by drug-sniffing dogs, to perform mass inspections of students’ belongings. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found the lockdown policy was a reasonable procedure to maintain the safety and security of students at the school. However, Rutherford Institute attorneys disagreed, insisting that government officials should be required to show particularized suspicion for instituting such aggressive searches and to operate within the parameters of the Fourth Amendment.

“By refusing to hear this case, the U.S. Supreme Court has once again proven itself one of the most egregious defenders of the emerging American police state,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “While this is a disappointing turn of events, it only strengthens our resolve to keep pushing back against a government which increasingly sees its citizens, especially the youth, as suspects requiring surveillance and control, rather than a free people whose rights should not be subject to the whims of police officials.”

On April 22, 2010, the principal of Central High School announced over the public address system that the school was going into “lockdown” and that students were prohibited from leaving their classrooms. School officials and agents of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department thereafter ordered students in random classrooms to leave all personal belongings behind and exit the classrooms. Dogs were also brought in to assist in the raid. Upon re-entering the classrooms, students allegedly discovered that their belongings had been rummaged through. Mellony and Doug Burlison, who had two children attending Central High School, complained to school officials that the lockdown and search were a violation of their children’s rights. School officials allegedly responded by insisting that the search was a “standard drill” and policy of the school district which would continue.

The Rutherford Institute sued the school district in September 2010 on behalf of the Burlisons and their two children, asking a federal district court to declare that the practice of effecting a lockdown of the school and conducting random, suspicionless seizures and searches violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the similar provision of the Missouri Constitution. In its January 2012 decision, the district court declared that the random lockdown and mass searches did not violate students’ rights. In March 2013, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment, holding that the school’s interest in combatting drug use outweighed the privacy rights of students. By refusing to hear the case, the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively cemented in place the school district’s policy. Affiliate attorneys Jeffrey L Light of Washington, D.C. and Jason T. Umbarger of Springfield, Mo., assisted The Rutherford Institute in its defense of the Burlison family.