Suzy’s Re-dress

Originally appeared in the October 1999 issue of the ABA Journal.

Harmless Error - A Truly Minority View on the Law

Suzy’s Re-dress

BY ANDREW J. McCLURG

My daughter’s litigiously delinquent pal, Suzy Spikes, just turned 13, causing concern in the neighborhood over the effect of adolescence on Suzy’s already temperamental nature.

Fortunately, most of the new locks, guard dogs and lawyers on retainer proved unnecessary. Apart from a few hundred histrionic outbursts, three Officer Needs Assistance calls and a minor incident in which Suzy bound Billy Johnson with electrical cord until he conceded she was the nicest girl in the seventh grade, Suzy’s adjustment to teen status has gone surprisingly smoothly.

Until last week, when her middle school imposed a new uniform dress code. On the first day, school officials determined Suzy’s outfit was out of compliance. In response to being sent home, Suzy organized a demonstration in the parking lot in which mobs of seventh-grade girls chanted “No ex post facto plaid” and sang “We Shall Overcome Hunter Green” until administrators reluctantly granted Suzy a hearing.

Principal Geeker represented the school. Suzy appeared pro se. It was a mismatch.

Q. Suzy, you have the uniform dress code in front of you. Show me where it says students are permitted to wear leopard-print tights.

A. Doesn’t say you can’t.

Q. Platform combat boots?

A. Doesn’t say you can’t.

Q. Faux rabbit fur scarf?

A. I stand by my previous answers. If the dorks who wrote this hideously unfair and stupid dress code wanted to outlaw my everyday wear, they should have said so. How was I supposed to know?

Q. It just so happens I’m the dork who wrote this hideously unfair and stupid dress code.

A. Then I should inform you that anything you say can and will be used against you. This state has strict laws protecting children.

Q. Sigh.

Suzy’s case consisted of the testimony of several other adolescent girls who swore under oath they would literally “die” if they couldn’t wear their new $50 teeshirts from Abercrombie & Fitch. Then came Suzy’s turn to examine the principal.

Q. Tell me, Principal Geeker, if that’s your real name, with all the problems facing our schools, why did you decide to dedicate your career to ruining the life of an innocent 13-year-old child?

A. I assure you the purpose of the dress code was not to ruin your life.

Q. Lies! Distortion!

A. Suzy, please.

Q. Objection! Badgering counsel. How can I possibly be expected to defend myself when every move I make I get tormented by The Man?

A. Overruled.

Q. Fine. Send me to the electric chair.

A. Sigh.

Suzy’s closing argument was compelling. She made an impassioned plea for liberty, individuality and Doc Martens, cried real tears, threw up on the vice principal, and threatened a class action on behalf of all similarly situated hormonally impaired and garment-oppressed 13-year-olds. Principal Geeker has called in sick for three weeks, so disposition remains pending.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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