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Judge Recalls 1985 Case That Still Shapes Students’ Rights

On Topic: New Jersey v. T.L.O.

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Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez talks about the significance of TLO.

Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez

Thirty years after the Supreme Court’s landmark Fourth Amendment decision in New Jersey v. T.L.O., the public defender who represented the teen in the case explains how it still applies to students and school officials today.

In an audio interview, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez, of Camden, NJ, tells how, as a young public defender, he represented a 14-year-old girl who was accused of smoking cigarettes in the school restroom. The story is a cautionary tale for students and administrators alike that has shaped the boundaries of search and seizure in schools since the 1980s.

The controversy in New Jersey v. T.L.O. began when a school administrator searched T.L.O.’s purse looking for cigarettes and found marijuana paraphernalia and a list of people who owed T.L.O. money. The case made its way through the court system and, in 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the search. The Court decided that the administrator was operating within the school’s authority to maintain an educational environment and he was not required to obtain a search warrant.

Educators can use the audio interview to support a courtroom simulation activity about New Jersey v. T.L.O. Additional resources include the T.L.O  facts and case summary, and a fictional scenario that updates the case to reflect current issues. These and other resources are ready for immediate use by judges in their courtrooms and by teachers in their classrooms. 

T.L.O and the Fourth Amendment is the theme of the 15th annual Open Doors to Federal Courts national initiative that welcomes high school teachers and their students into federal courthouses to conduct the courtroom simulation presided over by a federal judge. To find a participating court, contact the National Outreach Manager for the Federal Courts.

More court-related civics activities are ready for immediate use on the federal courts’ Educational Resources section. Additional Judiciary interviews can be found at the On Topic page.

Related Topics: Judicial History, Public Education