Constitutional Law

11th Circuit bans drug tests for welfare applicants, says they're not students or working risky jobs

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Differentiating welfare applicants from students and employees working risky jobs, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that the state of Florida could not require individuals to undergo drug testing as a condition of receiving government benefits.

“Outside the context of employees in especially hazardous occupations, the Supreme Court has recognized only one other circumstance giving rise to a substantial special need that justifies suspicionless drug testing: when testing ‘was undertaken in furtherance of the government’s responsibilities, under a public school system, as guardian and tutor of children entrusted to its care,’ ” said the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in its unanimous written opinion (PDF).

The 2011 law under which the tests were conducted also required parents applying for benefits to pay fees of $25 to $45 for urine testing. They were refundable after a negative result, the Orlando Sentinel reports, and only about one in 40 tests conducted while the law was enforced came back positive.

“This is a resounding affirmation of the values that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects—that none of us can be forced to submit to invasive and humiliating searches at the whim of the government, and that the Constitution protects the poor and the wealthy alike,” said Maria Kayanan of the ACLU of Florida in a written statement provided to the Tampa Bay Times.

The ACLU and the Florida Justice Institute represented lead plaintiff Luis Lebron in the class action. He was a single father and Navy veteran who was attending college when he sought benefits, according to the Brevard Times.

The state governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, the Sentinel says.

Corrected at 4:46 p.m. to state that only one in 40 tests conducted in Florida on welfare recipients came back positive for drugs.

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