[The Supreme Court will hear argument today in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington, No. 10-945.]

At 10:00 am Eastern Time, the Supreme Court will hear a case about personal autonomy, personal dignity, and a person’s most private details. In prior cases addressing these themes, we’ve watched Justice Kennedy transform from a Law and Order Republican appointee to a more Ron Paul Libertarian version. It will be interesting to see whether justice jekyll or hyde appears at oral arguments today because that will likely decide the case.

The constitutional question in the case is whether the Fourth Amendment permits a jail to conduct a suspicionless strip search whenever an individual is arrested for minor offenses. But that insipid question does nothing to describe what actually occurs when a person is arrested and stripped of their clothes and dignity at a county jail. Here is a description from the Petitioner’s Brief: 

Officers directed petitioner and several other detainees to enter a shower area, strip, and shower. Under close supervision of the officers and in the plain sight of each other and other employees entering the room, the detainees then stood together and were ordered to open their mouths, lift their genitals, turn around, squat, and cough.

The brief goes on to recount the serious emotional trauma, particularly to females, caused by extensive strip searches. It also notes that the people who filed suit in this case, and who were subjected to these invasive searches, all committed relatively minor offenses (“individuals who were strip-searched after being detained for infractions such as driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal, and riding a bicycle without an audible bell”).

Given the facts of this case, it will be interesting to see if Justice Kennedy holds his questions to the Fourth Amendment “reasonableness” issue or whether his questions veer off into personal privacy issues. My guess is that if it is the later, Justice Libertarian will write an opinion for five members of the Court.