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Constitutional Law

Mandatory drug tests for welfare recipients are struck down; appeal is planned

Posted Jan 3, 2014 7:15 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal judge has overturned a Florida law that requires welfare applicants to submit to drug tests.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott says he will appeal the decision issued Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven, report the New York Times and the News Service of Florida. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which filed the suit with the Florida Justice Institute, has a press release and a link to the decision.

Scriven said the requirement violated the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches.

The drug-testing requirement was in effect from July 1, 2011, through Oct. 24, 2011, when Scriven issued an injunction suspending the program. During that time, more than 4,000 people took the drug test, and only 108 tested positive for drug use, Scriven wrote.

The state had essentially argued that there was a special need to test welfare applicants because of perceived drug use in that population, Scriven wrote. But Scriven said allowing drug testing in those circumstances “would swallow the rule against warrantless, suspicionless drug testing.”

"Even if such suspicionless testing as proposed by the state were limited to those persons receiving state funds, would college students receiving governmental assistance to subsidize their education, for example, be subjected to random, suspicionless drug testing if it could be shown that drug use is demonstrably higher among college students?” Scriven asked. “The Supreme Court’s Fourth Amendment precedent would suggest not. Moreover, even if it were constitutionally palatable, no such showing of pervasive drug use among the Florida [welfare] population has been made on this record.”

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