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Fifth Court Decision in a Row Calls Rick Scott’s Drug-Testing Scheme Illegal

| December 3, 2014

He's not getting it. (© FlaglerLive)

He’s not getting it. (© FlaglerLive)

Less than two weeks after hearing arguments in the case, a federal appeals court Wednesday again rejected a Florida law pushed by Gov. Rick Scott requiring welfare applicants to submit to drug tests before they can receive benefits.


The 2011 law “offends the Fourth Amendment” protections from unreasonable searches by the government, a three-judge panel ruled in a 54-page opinion authored by Judge Stanley Marcus.

“We respect the state’s overarching and laudable desire to promote work, protect families, and conserve resources. But, above all else, we must enforce the Constitution and the limits it places on government. If we are to give meaning to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on blanket government searches, we must — and we do — hold that (the Florida law) crosses the constitutional line,” Marcus wrote.

The ruling, which upheld a final judgment late last year by U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven, is the fourth time courts have sided with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Luis Lebron, a Navy veteran and single father. The lawsuit was filed shortly after the law went into effect in mid-2011. Scott used mandatory drug tests as an issue in his 2010 campaign. Courts have also ruled against Scott’s attempt to drug-test state employees.

“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. The court has once again confirmed what we argued all along: that the state of Florida cannot treat an entire class of people like suspected criminals simply because they’ve asked the state for temporary assistance,” ACLU of Florida associate legal director Maria Kayanan, who argued the case before the court Nov. 20, said in a statement.

Scott can either ask the 11th Circuit for an “en banc” review by the entire court or pursue an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. The Scott administration did not comment Wednesday afternoon on the ruling. Despite repeated court decisions finding that the welfare drug testing law is unconstitutional, Scott and his lawyers have refused to back down from their position that the urine tests are needed to make sure poor children don’t grow up in drug-riddled households.

But the appeals-court judges again rejected the Scott administration’s arguments, saying that the state failed to make its case.

In effect from July 1, 2011, until Oct. 24, 2011, when Scriven issued a preliminary injunction putting it on hold, the law required applicants seeking benefits in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program — emergency cash benefits for “the poorest of the poor,” available to expectant mothers and families with children — to submit to and pay for urine tests, which range from $24 to $45. The money would be reimbursed if the tests were negative, and parents who failed the tests could designate someone else to receive cash benefits on behalf of their children.

During the period in which the law was in effect, 4,406 applicants submitted to drug testing. Only 108 — less than 3 percent — tested positive for drugs. Another 2,306 applicants failed to complete the applications or receive the drug screens.

“Viewing all of the facts in the light most favorable to the state, we agree with the district court that the state has failed to establish a demonstrable or peculiar drug-use problem among TANF applicants. If anything, the evidence extant suggests quite the opposite: that rates of drug use in the TANF population are no greater than for those who receive other government benefits, or even for the general public,” Marcus wrote.

The U.S. Supreme Court has made exceptions for the “closely guarded category” of government searches, Marcus wrote, including for U.S. Customs drug-interdiction agents, government workers whose jobs require that they carry guns and student athletes. But the nation’s highest court refused to sign off on a Georgia law that would have required mandatory drug testing of candidates for statewide office.

Scott is also involved in a separate drawn-out court battle over an executive order demanding that state workers submit to suspicion-less drug tests. The U.S. Supreme Court last year refused to take up that case, but Scott is expected to seek the high court’s review again if lower courts continue to rule against him.

So far, the state, at Scott’s bidding, has spent more than $400,000 on legal battles related to his attempts to require drug testing for state employees and welfare applicants.

Scott’s lawyers argued that the state had a “special need” for an exception to the constitutional protections against government searches and seizures to ensure that TANF participants were prepared to enter the work force, ensure that the TANF program met its child-welfare and family-stability goals and guarantee that public funds are used for their intended purposes.

But Scott did not convince the judges that the “special need” exists.

“Of course, citizens do not abandon all hope of privacy by applying for government assistance. By virtue of poverty, TANF applicants are not stripped of their legitimate expectations of privacy — they are not employees in dangerous vocations or students subject to the (power) of the state,” Marcus wrote.

He added: “Encouraging employability, protecting children, and conserving public funds are general — and unquestionably legitimate — public concerns. But empirical evidence indicates these needs are not specific to or special for TANF applicants, nor is drug testing essential to ensuring the success of the TANF program as a whole.”

–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida

11th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision on Drug-Testing

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11 Responses for “Fifth Court Decision in a Row Calls Rick Scott’s Drug-Testing Scheme Illegal”

  1. confidential says:

    Has to be defeated Scott’s prejudiced drug testing demand…also is a conflict of interest promoting the use of the lab corporation that Scott owns for the those test.

  2. Tom Jacks says:

    I have been subject to drug testing since 1988. Drug testing for welfare recipients as well as state employees is just common sense.

    • John Smallberries says:

      Or you could ban all drug testing in the workplace, except in instances where accidents involving injury occur. Your employer should have 0 rights with respect to what you do outside of the workplace unless you’re in a position where your behavior can cause negative impact on the business.

      • barbie says:

        Putting aside the main fact that this has cost 400,000 of our tax dollars–another notch in Rick Scott’s Criminal Belt–for just a moment, just so I could say “thank you”, John.

        I tire of the “argument” that “drug testing” is necessary because employers have required it. NO. Not all have or do. To begin with, plenty of private employers don’t even bother anymore. Like the Feds looking for good help at some of the alphabet agencies, private employers across the board have realized this wasn’t a cost-effective way to evaluate applicants. They realized they were losing out on way too many good job candidates because a lot of Americans smoke pot from time to time and the idiotic prohibition makes the test a FAIL. It is none of your employer’s business what you do on your own time, unless your job involves being a driver, a pilot, or any other job where public safety is directly threatened by someone who is currently impaired.

        Americans should have *never* acquiesced to wholesale pee testing for every job advertised. That’s what people need to understand. Never, never, never, NEVER, should that have been permitted across the board. Testing someone who’s applying to be a desk jockey shuffling paperwork was just absurd. It continues to BE absurd, working for any state agency as a desk jockey still gets you tested, and it’s ridiculous. Scott needs to let this go, NOW, and stop wasting The Peoples’ Money.

  3. It’s not about drug screening. It’s about pandering to those who are radically opposed to giving welfare to poor, needy persons. Those folks are most likely far right politically, and they love this kind of political grandstanding.

  4. Scott Pippen says:

    The greatest Florida governor ever.

  5. Sherry Epley says:

    Right ON! Phil!

    Here’s the horrible hypocrisy in his position . . . he is using the welfare of poor children as an excuse to RESTRICT or STOP access to benefits for those families he, and his cronies, would like to further disenfranchise. I would wager that he has no plan to care for the children that could possibly be taken from their families IF he were allowed to violate our Constitution in this way!

    GO ACLU!

  6. confidential says:

    Correct Mr. Phil Chanfrau is just open discrimination!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Pandering to a prejudiced and mean-spirited constituency while using them to clean up financially is what you can expect from a slimeball like Rick Scott.

  8. Jeff Jones says:

    When every judge and congressman lines up for a piss test, then they can test welfare applicants. Hey they all get a state paycheck right.

  9. Anonymous says:

    You want a free ride off the taxpayers than you need to step up a pee in the bottle! Test negative than no problem. Test positive than I guess you go hungry that month. I am all for protecting our constitutional rights, but when constant abuse of those rights come into play than other steps need to be taken.

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