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Gov. Scott Now 0-For-4 on Drug-Testing as Federal Judge Harshly Criticizes Violation of Welfare Recipients’ Rights

| January 2, 2014

Gov. Rick Scott is not letting go of a weedy obsession. (© FlaglerLive)

Gov. Rick Scott is not letting go of a weedy obsession. (© FlaglerLive)

A federal judge has ruled that a 2011 law requiring welfare applicants to undergo drug tests is unconstitutional, striking a blow to Gov. Rick Scott’s administration over the controversial tests.

Scott quickly said he would appeal U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven’s Tuesday ruling, the latest defeat for the governor in a drawn-out battle over drug testing some of the state’s poorest residents.

Scriven, appointed by George W. Bush in 2008, ruled that the urine tests violate the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

In a harshly worded, 30-page opinion, Scriven concluded that “there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied.”

Scott, who used the mandatory drug tests as a campaign issue, insists that the urine tests are needed to make sure poor children don’t grow up in drug-riddled households.

“Any illegal drug use in a family is harmful and even abusive to a child,” Scott said in a statement after Tuesday’s ruling. “We should have a zero tolerance policy for illegal drug use in families — especially those families who struggle to make ends meet and need welfare assistance to provide for their children. We will continue to fight for Florida children who deserve to live in drug-free homes by appealing this judge’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals.”

At Scott’s urging in 2011, the Legislature passed the law requiring all applicants seeking Temporary Assistance for Needy Families” — the “poorest of the poor” — to undergo the urine tests. Applicants had to pay for the tests, which cost about $35, up front and were to have been reimbursed if they did not test positive.

Within months after the law was passed, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida sued the state on behalf of Luis Lebron, a Navy veteran and single father. In October 2011, Scriven issued a preliminary order putting the law on hold. Scott appealed the decision but in February, an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals three-judge panel agreed with Scriven, ruling that the drug tests amounted to an unreasonable search by government. Scott later requested a full court review of the case but was turned down.

Scott has been equally unsuccessful in his attempts to have state workers randomly drug-tested. The Legislature in March 2012 moved toward passing just such a law (and excluding legislators from being tested).  Scott in 2011 had issued an executive order requiring state workers to be randomly tested. The ACLU promptly sued.  Soon after the Legislature’s move in 2012, a federal judge That April, a federal judge–Ursula Ungaro, an appointee of the first George Bush–declared the order unconstitutional.

In her Tuesday ruling, Scriven relied heavily on the 11th Circuit opinion, which cited previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings that restricted urine tests by government agencies to employees working at dangerous jobs or in jobs where schoolchildren were involved.


Scott’s lawyers argued that TANF recipients should be considered a “special interest” exception to the Fourth Amendment. The tests are needed to ensure TANF participants’ job readiness, help the social welfare program meets its goals and guarantee that the public money is used for its intended purpose and not spent on drugs.

But Scriven criticized the expert witnesses, testimony and evidence the state used to defend the law.

“In sum, there simply is no competent evidence offered on this record of the sort of pervasive drug problem the State envisioned in the promulgation of this statute,” she wrote.

The state failed to show that TANF recipients used drugs with more frequency than the rest of the population, Scriven found. But even if it had, creating a special class of people who would be exempt from the constitutional protections could be dangerous, she wrote.

“If persons in an economic demographic could be shown to have a higher rate of drug use, would all such persons in that economic group be subjected to 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? The Supreme Court’s Fourth Amendment precedent would suggest not,” Scriven wrote.

Scriven’s decision “is a sound rejection of the evidence that the state presented to the district court in its attempt to establish that TANF applicants used drugs at a higher rate than the general population,” said ACLU of Florida Associate Legal Director Florida Maria Kayanan, the lead attorney on the case.

She called Scott’s promised appeal “a waste of the state’s time and taxpayer’s money” but said “they certainly have the right to an appeal.”

–News Service of Florida and FlaglerLive

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35 Responses for “Gov. Scott Now 0-For-4 on Drug-Testing as Federal Judge Harshly Criticizes Violation of Welfare Recipients’ Rights”

  1. blondee says:

    Sheesh! Most of us “regular” people are subjected to drug tests all the time. Try to get a decent job without taking one. What is THAT not unconstitutional?

  2. confidential says:

    Have all drug tested from Governor R. Scott on down or NONE!

  3. Someone Else says:

    So let me get this straight, it is somehow a violation of your rights when you have to submit to a drug test to receive a welfare check that I had to submit to a drug test to earn for you? Makes total sense!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Of course, Governor Scott would not support drug testing of ALL parents whose children receive other services paid for by tax payers such as going to public school, or parents receiving tax breaks for having dependent children,,,because we all know that only poor people on welfare use and abuse drugs…So, I guess, anyone with THAT incredibly prejudicial and erroneous mindset would agree with Governor Scott’s justification for singling out only parents receiving “welfare” for mandatory drug testing. Does he (or anyone) actually believe that only poor children suffer from parental drug and alcohol addiction? But, then again, that’s just the sort of gratuitously bigoted thinking that Governor Scott shamelessly caters to in order to get elected.

  5. Ron says:

    Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

  6. Really? says:

    So let me see if i get this right. A random urine test on assistance aid recipients is unconstitutional but the ebt card holder i see at the circle K purchasing junk food for her boyfriend with her three kids in tow is ok? whatever happened to working to support yourself??

  7. Steve Wolfe says:

    While I also don’t want our country to become even more tyrannical, I think it is prudent to verify that our tax dollars are not financing the illegal drug trade through some of the recipients of welfare. We all get bent a little when we discover other abuses and wastes of tax revenues. It is no secret that some welfare payments are used to buy drugs, and some food stamps are traded for drugs. Some publicly funded housing units are used by drug users, dealers, and manufacturers.

    On a related issue, I wish the courts would be as vigilant in the protection of all of our Constitutional rights. I think that the IRS is going to have even more power over recipients of Obamacare, including the power to suspend benefits or raise premiums to violators of certain bureaucratically-determined guidelines. How will they know about violations? From medical records, including tests of all kinds, which they will be privy to. I hope the courts come through for our rights then.

    I just wish there was some manner in which the public could be protected from the additional blight caused by the publicly-funded welfare scam involving drugs. But, then, I also wish there was a manner in which the public could be protected from crooked politicians. I suppose I do shoot a little high at times.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well, let’s see…Our tax dollars are financing an endless cornucopia of corporate welfare benefits and the fine folks receiving that have a lot less oversight hanging over them than the average “welfare” recipient. does. I especially appreciate the finely tuned outrage of folks who routinely cheat on their taxes and complain about all the welfare queens who are ripping off the government…Just like those lovely Tea Party Seniors who complain (without ANY foundation) about what a threat Obamacare is to THEM while they smoke their ciggies and chomp away on their fried foods at Bob Evans ( while the rest of us pay for their humongous Medicare bills) .But, of course, those fine upstanding citizens are the only ones who REALLY know about responsibility!

      • Steve Wolfe says:

        That’s good, just equivocate, and avoid addressing the issue at hand. Re-read my last paragraph. I don’t support the drug testing solution. But it isn’t because of who else’s hand is in the cookie jar, it’s because it is another instance of the already tyrannical government ignoring the Constitution. I would like to have the kind of power over my government that they already practice over us. That is exactly what our Constitution provides. But the problem with our government is that it has over-stepped the very boundaries that are set by the Constitution. The Constitution provides our rights, and tells the government what it shall NOT do. Somehow, because of the type of people we elect, our government has been led to violate the Constitution. Somehow, the government practices as if IT has all the rights over us, rather than the other way around. This article merely describes another problem which the government created, for which the government offers even worse solutions. That’s what government does.

  8. Genie says:

    We have mandatory drug testing in the federal government. Why not welfare? I’m disagreeing BIG TIME here.

    Rights? Nobody has any rights anymore.

  9. tom jack says:

    Whats wrong with random drug testing? In order to work in both the private and public sector, employees must submit to random drug testing to keep your job. Why should recipients of public largess be treated any differently than the people that are the source of the largess.

  10. Rocky Mac says:

    The difference Tom is that it is unconstitutional. Being tested before employment is the right of the business owner to have a safe environment for his employees. Personally if I was working in a warehouse I would not want the fork lift driver stoned. A welfare recipient doing drugs, not good, just stay off the roads and off a forklift. Cheating the government? Geez, we get in a dither over welfare cheaters yet sit back and watch the real abusers, big banks, Wall Street, corporations hiding their profits from the IRS.

  11. Sherry Epley says:

    YES, many “private” companies (which, by the way, are NOT controlled by the government) require drug testing. . . as it is their “non-regulated” right to do. YES, “some” government jobs lend themselves to drug testing:

    “The Supreme Court found testing without a warrant permissible in three instances: (1) customs officers involved in front-line drug interdiction; (2) customs officers who carry firearms; and (3) train operators where a documented problem with drug/alcohol related accidents existed in the industry. The Court found that employees in these positions performed duties “fraught with such risks of injury to others that even a momentary lapse of attention can have disastrous consequences.” Since these decisions, lower courts have struggled with the limits of the Court’s rulings. Some courts have interpreted the rulings more broadly than others.”

    BUT simply pulling out a group of under privileged, struggling people who by definition are NOT in positions “fraught with such risks of injury to others” and subjecting them to drug tests is not only unconstitutional but outrageous and inhuman!

    The motive of Rick Scott here is NOT to protect children! He and his cronies are the FIRST to cut aid to children! He has personally labeled all those who need any kind of assistance as “takers”, just like the entire heartless Tea Party to which he prays every day. He has vowed to do every thing in his power to make life even more difficult for those in need. He needs to be voted out in the next election! We need to get the “right to recall” on the ballot and passed!

  12. Ogrethetop says:

    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?

    what about a home loan insured by fanny mae?

    then it will turn into a drug free city and if you want to live in that town you need to submit to random drug test.

    and then take it even further till you need to be DNA screened cause if you carry cancer markers on your DNA you will cost the state more later in your life . you we won’t let you move to this great state…

  13. rickg says:

    Those of you who think its okay to randomly drug test employees in public or private entities should be screaming the loudest. This is an obvious violation of your 4th Amendment rights… I wonder if Gov Scott would be so hot on making sure that any gun purchases by the TANF recipients were done legally??? All hail the hallowed 2nd Amendment but screw all of those who would value your own privacy

  14. Suzy Q says:

    …because you are discriminating against a selected group because they are on welfare. They are suspect and because they receive assistance from the State the government (State) is going to paint you with a broad brush and say you’re dirty and because we say you’re dirty, we’re going to make you prove it. And, to prove your innocent we’re going to make you pay for the test and when your sample comes back clean we’ll reimburse you. This is outrageous conduct on the part of the State. Job applicants have a choice before being tested for a job welfare recipients don’t. Welfare recipients and their children need it to survive. What’s next, piss test the kids too. Try living on welfare folks.

    The real crime here is Gov Scott’s wife receiving a fee for every welfare recipient tested. Gov Scott put the clinics in his wife’s name. I would call that a conflict of interest or making money on the downtrodden in our society. This guy is nothing but a dirt-bag.

    • Anonymous says:

      Right on Suzy Q! I guess you could call mandatory drug testing of Florida Welfare recipients WELFARE FOR THE SCOTTS!

  15. Jennifer S says:

    the hypocrisy of it all is what baffles me. suddenly all those welfare haters are okay with spending more money on ridiculous court proceedings & drug testings & the over-reaching & creation of more bureaucracy … so long as it only effects the poorest of the poor.

    why then wouldn’t they also be okay with drug testing medicare recipients? and why would gov. scott stop at testing state workers? why not the legislature & his administrative staff & himself for that matter? i guess it’s okay since as long as they are using misinformation and ignorance as their facts, then we can assume in this administration’s eye it is fine to be on drugs so long as the state thinks you can afford to do so.

    • Anonymous says:

      @Jennifer S says–Why, it’s because al those fine upstanding Patriots calling for mandatory urine tests for welfare recipients are SOOOO against governmental interference…except in cases where they aren’t…Like this…Or requiring pregnant women to endure forced ultrasounds if they dare to think they have reproductive rights or the right to privacy. What crust!

  16. Sally says:

    Why haven’t most of you mentioned the REAL reason Governor “Medicare Fraud” has instituted this policy (in addition to the executive order relative to public employees)? So his company Solantic, now in his wife’s name, can rake in the cash! Just another example of the Republican war on the poor. Disgraceful!

  17. Diana L says:

    Rick Scott ran on this issue. The fact that it didn’t work, is unconstitutional and exposed just the opposite that it was suppose to reveal is irrelevant to him. He will be appealing this and taking it to the Supreme Court. He will run on this again. He is exploiting this for political purposes. He is exploiting the false prejudices about welfare recipients and the state of Florida is paying big time for whipping up his base.

  18. Tanisha says:

    TELL ME WHERE IN THE CONSTITUTION WE ARE TO GIVE MONEY TO PEOPLE WHO DON’T WANT TO WORK???

  19. Tanisha says:

    JENNIFER….we get drug tested at work, at the doctors…so why can’t welfare people getting OUR HARD EARNED MONEY? Excuse me but I see very few people on welfare that really deserve it and 3x the fraud! If you want to give them YOUR money then do so but I DO NOT WANT TO. I wish to help those who really deserve it.. and yes-those who believe in throwing money to people needlessly are RACISTS. Welfare stops those receiving it from moving up in life and I feel you really don’t want these people living next door to you..that is racism.

  20. Sherry Epley says:

    For those of you who object to having one bit of compassion and caring for those less fortunate. . . you have no idea what it may be like to walk in their shoes.

    May YOU never be unemployed/under employed
    May YOU never be in the wrong place at the wrong time
    May YOU never be forced to give birth the child of a rapist or your father or brother
    May YOU never be fired from a job for absolutely no reason what so ever
    May YOU never be denied a good education
    May YOU never go hungry
    May YOU never be without because of the color of your skin
    May YOU never be without shelter
    May YOU never be reviled and hated by your fellow human beings
    May YOU never be without shelter

  21. rickg says:

    Tanisha read the preamble… to promote the general welfare… this should also cover health care as well.

    • Steve Wolfe says:

      Rick read the follow up comments of the men who wrote that preamble. They clearly envisioned a minimal government which was never meant to administer such monstrous assistance programs. One of them warned, “The government which can provide you everything can also take everything from you.” Tyranny is a product of large government. Ours is growing exponentially. I worry about the number of Americans who still think ours is benevolent.

      • Anonymous says:

        @Steve Wolfe says–So, the government is your enemy…The government that helps administer the facets of our lives that makes our lives tolerable enough that millions WISH they were here. The government is not our enemy. I think suspicion bordering on paranoia might be. I especially love Randian politicians, like the Pauls, who work within the very fabric of the government that they love to say has too much power. Without that terrible, nasty, overbearing government that wields all that destructive power, they, themselves, would have no power at all. I would say that they would have no salary at all, except that a considerable part of their combined incomes come from criticisizing the government that PAYS them their BASE salary. I call that hypocrisy.

        • Steve Wolfe says:

          Nowhere did I call the government “enemy.” I did use the word tyranny with regards to one of the aspects of centralized power. I also gave real examples. Rather than paranoia, I would say we are vigilant towards abuses of power which jeopardize our liberty. Someone has to since the complacent among us are easily distracted by the free goodies dispensed by the government. Government is made of people, flawed like the rest of us, but it also attracts people with a desire to wield power over the citizenry. That kind bears watching the most. What better way to watch them than from within, which is precisely why the founders designed representative government with three distinct branches.

  22. rickg says:

    I’m so glad Steve that you were around when those men discussed, compiled and wrote our Constitution. You must have been there because how in the hell would you know they wanted limited government. The men who wrote this document assumed that there would be changes in store as society progressed. That is why they allowed amendments…. If they believed in limited government we would have the Articles of Confederation still in place.

    • Steve Wolfe says:

      No I wasn’t around then, but there’s this thing called history, and books and things that were written by the Founders. I know it can be tricky to learn stuff, but if you didn’t pay attention in school, there are libraries, and there’s the interweb.

      But you don’t have to agree with me. I can’t force you to be right.

      • A.S.F. says:

        @Steve Wolfe says–History is often a matter of interpretation, as you yourself have just proven. Your tone suggests that you feel that anyone who doesn’t interpret it the way you do HAS to be wrong. That’s not necessarily the case but you can believe what you want. Perhaps that is what makes this country of our’s so great.

        • Steve Wolfe says:

          Well, we at least agree that our country is great. As for my “tone,” you have certainly made an interpretation about that. If we met face to face over coffee at Starbucks (my treat), we could have a civil discussion void of doubts about nuance. (No, really. I’d enjoy it.) As for history being a matter of interpretation, that is simply because it is so often interpreted by people who find that it doesn’t support their own conclusions. History is an account by the people who recorded events at that time, accompanied by some later analysis by the scholars of the day, and barring evidence to the contrary, it’s all we have. But I didn’t interpret what our Founders said. Their direct quotations are very well preserved, so that’s not really up for interpretation. Those men earnestly believed that after establishing this nation, its people still needed to remain vigilant against the return to the very system that had created the need for such a departure, as stated in the Declaration of Independence. They also worried that we would not be up to the task due to the lack of education, and the distractions provided by worthless pass times. I invite you to join me to ensure that the Founders are not disappointed.

          • Raul Troche says:

            Where in our constitutional history is the government above the law? These politicians today want to exempt themselves from the laws they want to force on us. Here are two good examples; Obama care and these drug testing laws for state employees to which they exempted themselves. God and I both hate hypocrisy. If the law is good and beneficial or for that matter not good they should definitely have to be bound by those laws they pass. Remember constitutionally we are all equal.

            • Steve Wolfe says:

              Wow Raul, a little late, but your comment seems supportive. Usually folks reply to me to disagree. I hope you intend to vote for candidates who support an originalist interpretation of the Constitution and don’t hold themselves or anyone else above the law. That would help draw the nation back from the brink. Personally, I’d like to start the next administration off with real cutbacks in the size and the power of federal agencies. Since they can’t seem to get their fiscal house in order in D.C., they need to shrink significantly and allow Americans to keep more of their own money. Our current government has gone mad.

  23. Suzy Q says:

    I think it’s admirable that we are a giving nation. I mean, look at all the non profit agencies out there that contribute to our society even the world, especially starvation, catastrophes and medical research. We have the richest people in the world donating large sums of their money to these causes.

    Do they do that because they know they can’t take it (money) with them or do they contribute because it is the morally correct thing to do for the have nots which is one of the most altruistic virtues one can accomplish.

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