Today my AP Gov't class took a trip to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). We were fortunate to get reserved seating thanks to one of my classmates, so we skipped the line and were able to sit for an entire argument. We didn't get to choose which of the two arguments we saw, since half our group was randomly sent to each. I didn't get the one I had hoped for. Camreta v. Greene (the one I attended), however, proved to be much more entertaining than Schindler Elevator v. US ex rel. Kirk, at least based on the people I talked to. A quick search of the transcripts for each confirms this:
|Argument||# of instances of "(Laughter)"|
Facts of the caseThe Huffington Post has a detailed overview of the circumstances surrounding the case, which didn't gloss over any details or strike me as overly biased; they certainly did a better job than I did. The whole story is rather sad, but what came before the court was this: whether a child can be questioned by the police, Child Protective Services, or other governmental agencies without parental consent, probable cause, or "extingent circumstances". If so, on what grounds can such questioning occur?
The Court enjoys itself
Even with the rather solumn subject matter facing the Court, the justices managed to point out some of the absurdities in arguments made by the defense (attorneys representing the girl). Looking into the transcript for Camreta, here are some specific examples of hilarity:
On the lack of legal interest
From pp. 27, 28:
ORAL ARGUMENT OF CAROLYN A. KUBITSCHEK ON BEHALF OF THE RESPONDENTS
MS. KUBITSCHEK: Thank you. Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court: There is no case or controversy between S.G. and the Petitioners. That ended when -
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Then why are you -why are you here?
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: You're not challenging the qualified immunity ruling?
MS. KUBITSCHEK: Precisely.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Yet, you have - yet, you have -- why didn't you just go away?
MS. KUBITSCHEK: Mr. Chief Justice, we are not here voluntarily.
MS. KUBITSCHEK: She won a moral victory when she obtained a ruling in her favor on the Fourth Amendment claim in the Ninth Circuit…
On the definition of a seizure
Here, the lawyer for the defense cannot seem to clearly articulate what exactly she's proposing be the new standard for a "seizure" in a school context. From pp. 40 thru 43
JUSTICE ALITO: But what is your answer to Justice Ginsburg's question, suppose it was just Mr. Camreta or suppose it was the school nurse, would the answer be the same?
MS. KUBITSCHEK: No, it would not be the same if it was the school nurse or Mr. Camreta. And the -- the reason is that the school nurse is part of the school administration, and the school has an obligation and the authority under T.L.O. act and in Earls to make rules and carry out procedures that will protect the children of the school and promote learning, and if the child comes -
JUSTICE ALITO: So if it was just Mr. Camreta and he -
MS. KUBITSCHEK: If Mr. -
JUSTICE ALITO: -- and he taped the conversation and then later turned it over to the -- to the police if he discovered evidence of child abuse, there would be no problem? Right?
MS. KUBITSCHEK: If Mr. Camreta came in from the outside, he would not fall within the T.L.O. rule, […snip…]
JUSTICE BREYER: Same circumstance. Was there a seizure? No -- no professor -- no policeman?
MS. KUBITSCHEK: If -- if -
JUSTICE BREYER: School nurse?
MS. KUBITSCHEK: The school nurse?
JUSTICE BREYER: Seizure?
MS. KUBITSCHEK: Probably not a seizure.
JUSTICE BREYER: And so, it's not a seizure if exactly the same thing happens but there is no outside person there, but it is a seizure if there's an outside person?
MS. KUBITSCHEK: If the outside person comes into the school -
JUSTICE BREYER: That's the rule as to whether there's a seizure?
MS. KUBITSCHEK: That's one of the factors to look at.
JUSTICE SCALIA: If you send her to the school nurse, it's not a seizure, but if the school doesn't have a nurse and it brings in a nurse from the outside and say, you know, we think you have some contagious disease, we would like you to speak to this -- then it becomes a seizure?
MS. KUBITSCHEK: Well, Your Honor, the T.L.O. framework would certainly apply in that situation, where you have a child who has a potentially contagious disease, then the analysis you follow -
JUSTICE SCALIA: Contagious, it's just a disease that's going to kill this child and nobody else, okay?
There were others, which I'll not include (psst: pp. 44 - 46) because this post is long enough already, but on whole it made for interesting oral arguments.
Thoughts on the case
Warning: my entire blog is my opinion, which may differ from that of my current, past, or future employers, but this is even more so. Oh, and IANAL.
Students can be seized without parental consent with relation to school discipline, as established in New Jersey v. T.L.O. (referenced above). In T.L.O., the court specifically didn't discuss school cooperation with LEOs. It is considered in almost every other instance valuable for a parent to give consent for a seizure or interrogation. I can understand waiving the requirements for consent if there is probable cause to suspect the parent has molested the child in question. If, as in this case, it was another child, and the only such inference drawn between the parent and his child was that of hearsay, then I don't think it would be considered "reasonable".
I'm not sure where the line should be drawn, be it "reasonable suspicion" or "probable cause".