Florida Judge Finally Ends Drug Testing For Welfare Recipients

image of a urine sample

U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven ruled on Tuesday that Florida’s law that required welfare recipients to have drug tests before getting benefits violated the 4th amendment against unreasonable search and seizure. The state failed to show that poor people are more likely to use drugs or that testing poor people should be squeezed into the limits allowed by the US Supreme Court.

The judge’s ruling pretty much followed my line of argument on this topic in a previous post:

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.”

“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.

Judge nixes Florida’s welfare drug testing

I particularly liked the bit Scriven included from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling issued back in May:

There is nothing so special or immediate about the government’s interest in ensuring that TANF recipients are drug free so as to warrant suspension of the Fourth Amendment. The only known and shared characteristic of the individuals who would be subjected to Florida’s mandatory drug testing program is that they are financially needy families with children. Yet, there is nothing inherent in the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a concrete danger that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use or that should drug use occur, that the lives of TANF recipients are fraught with such risks of injury to others that even a momentary lapse of attention can have disastrous consequences.

Lebron v. Sec’y, Florida Dep’t of Children & Families (2013)

Scriven also noted that the state thought the law was consitutional because it required consent. The judge rejected that argument:

As the Eleventh Circuit explained, “[t]he State’s assertion that the consent that is provided by TANF applicants renders the drug testing reasonable for Fourth Amendment purposes is belied by Supreme Court precedent, which has invalidated searches premised on consent where it has been shown that consent was granted in submission to authority rather than as an understanding and intentional waiver of a constitutional right.”

So hopefully, the “let’s drug test poor people” fetish will start to fade away.