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Federal Judge: Drug Tests For Welfare Are Unconstitutional


A Federal Judge has ruled that drug testing for welfare is unconstitutional. Judge Mary S. Scriven of the United States District Court in Orlando said drug testing without reasonable suspicion violates the Fourth Amendment.

Judge Scriven said, “there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless, drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied.” Although the testing was previously suspended, Scriven’s decision makes the temporary ban permanent.

The 2011 law required mandatory drug testing for applicants to Florida’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Governor Rick Scott argued that the law was designed to protect children:

“Any illegal drug use in a family is harmful and even abusive to a child… 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.”

As reported by the ACLU, Governor Scott said welfare recipients were more likely to use drugs than the general population. However, the results of the mandatory testing reveal a different story.

A total of 4,086 TANF applicants were tested for drug use. Only 108, or 2.6 percent, tested positive for illegal drugs. As the state of Florida had to reimburse the applicants who tested clean, the program ultimately cost the state more than $45,000.

North Escambia reports drug testing for welfare applicants is also criticized for targeting the poor. Judge Scriven discusses the implication in her ruling:

“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… 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?”

Governor Scott stands behind his decision to require drug testing for welfare applicants. However, if he does not file an appeal the judge’s decision will stand.

[Image via Flickr]

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36 Responses to “Federal Judge: Drug Tests For Welfare Are Unconstitutional”

  1. Darlena Greg Hammond

    The way I see it you have to prove ur income is a certain amount…you have to prove you have no money in the bank…so if you have low income and no money in the bank then there should be no money for drugs and you should have to prove your not taking them illegal

  2. Kristen Adkins

    I guess you missed the part about the program actually costing the tax payers more than $45,000 to reimburse people who tested negative?

  3. Darlena Greg Hammond

    Yes I did…but it still dont change the fact that people have money to buy drugs but wont buy their child something to eat and we are paying more then that to support them and then alot of them sell what they do get to buy the drugs…dont get me wrong I have nothing against someone having a drink once in a while but to just live off the tax payers money and not providing for their childern and doing drugs it is just wrong and I know this happens because someone that use to be close to me did it…and I know others do so if its costingus $45.000 for drug testing its costing more not to…Im not here to argue..its my opinion just like anyone else that has one

  4. Rod Halford

    Sure is funny most jobs require you to undergo a drug test before you are hired. Also a lot of company's do random drug test, I guess those are not unconstitutional.

  5. Mike L Copeland Jr.

    then it should be unconstitutional to test those about to be hired for employment

  6. Julie Hartlieb-Pleimann

    So is it also unconstitutional for regular jobs to require a drug test?? I fail to see the difference between the two.

  7. Jamie Wilson

    You don't have to be on welfare to do drugs. I don't agree with anyone doing drugs unless it is medical marijuana and a doctor has confirmed for the patient to do it. The government is wasting money. $45,000 is a lot to throw away. People should not do drugs but some do. People should know what to do with their assistance they receive but no everyone that receives funding is a drug addict.

  8. Adam Haskins

    I think it is "different" because jobs are in the private sector and government is public. I dunno. Good point tho

  9. Leslie Diffin

    Unconstitutional is just that. Everybody seems awfully ready to screw the constitution when it comes to somebody else's rights. (Example set by you know who-Bama) Employment is a different story. You represent a company, their image, their income, insurance, etc. When other peoples safety is a factor, you better be straight..

  10. JaimeAnd Bobbie Rios

    Out of those 4000 people they tested, how many were elderly? I live in a area where the majority of people are getting social security checks because they claim they are "crazy". i ran into two of these kinds of people in the grocery store with their shopping carts chuck full of food and bragging about the party they were going to and that there was going to be some good cocaine there. Here was me, with a little basket trying to figure out what me & my hubby could afford to eat. Also hardcore drugs usually takes 3 days to exit your system so they probably passed by the skin of their teeth.

  11. David Demingphoto

    I think this might be one of those times, to say watch the slippery slope. As in life nothing is b&w, I think if this goes though, we better get ready to build a lot more jails and prisons to fill with more shoplifting of food and burglarys. Also whats gonna stop them to demand drug test for other things, such as buying a gun, to have children, thats just a few things this could become. All I'm saying is better beware of what you wish for, you might just get it.

  12. Heidi Powell

    If your getting any kind of free money you should be drug tested welfare or educ. or hud cause aftr all its the tax payer that foots the bill.

  13. Bernita Harris

    I don't see it as a bad idea. Money is allotted for care of their families and if they have money for drugs they don't need the govt assistance.

  14. Rick Stroup

    If the cost of all the testing was $45,000 taking 2 or 3 drug users off the rolls paid for the tests. Sounds like it's worth it to me.

  15. Bob Vershon


  16. Mark Thatoneguy

    Judges today do not even consider the Constitution in their rulings. Welfare is not a Constitutional Right, or everybody would qualify for it. Welfare is supposed to be for people that need help getting back on their feet, it isnt supposed to be used as a career or lifetime support system (unless in the case of legal disabilities).

    Able-bodied people on welfare should be looking for work, as is required for unemployment benefits, and drug use can be counterproductive to finding a job. Drugs can keep people from looking for work, being able to perform work, or passing a test if it is required. Drug use can also cause higher medical costs for a number of reasons.

    Personally, I dont care if people do drugs but if laws exist to say we cant, then the laws have to be applied reasonably or they serve no purpose at all.

    If drug testing is unconstitutional, then it would fall under discrimination and privacy clauses when employers require it. You cant have it both ways. Either it is constitutional for both or neither. If it is constitutional for either, it would be most logically applied to welfare, since the person is being subsidized from the labor of others.

    However, they could solve the problem without actually testing anyone. All they would have to do is pass out a survey to people on welfare, and those who are against testing are most likely using drugs. By default, if someone (able-bodied) is using drugs while on welfare, they are abusing the system. People who arent abusing the system dont object to drug testing.

    Now there's some critical thinkin' for ya!

  17. Mark Thatoneguy

    That's not to say that people dont abuse the system in other ways…but thats not the issue.

  18. Trish Cather

    If I have to have a "warrantless and lack of suspicion" drug test to work. Then ANYONE, including college students, who is receiving my tax dollars should submit to a "warrantless and lack of suspicion" drug test.

  19. Glen Key

    Contrary to popular belief, NOBODY is entitled to anything that I have worked for.
    You want to do drugs, get a job to pay for them, otherwise here's your cup, fill er up.

  20. Cody Grensted-Giles

    Kristen Adkins You seem to forget how much money would be saved by cutting off welfare for those who tested positive, which would be more than enough to cover the cost of reimbursing those who don't.

  21. Cristina Gonzalez

    This also failed in other states. Also those who failed still had option to designate someone to get benefits in kids names. Saving us nothing

  22. Kristen Adkins

    Cody Grensted-Giles Except they didn't factor in all the court costs, and extra hrs that were spent on this. Also, Rick Scott and his wife invested $62 million into the drug testing company that tested the applicants. It wasn't until after that investment, that he started pushing for drug testing. Does that sound strange, do you really think he's pushing this because he's concerned about saving FL money?"A few days before he took office in January, Scott moved his shares in Solantic Corp., a chain of 32 urgent care centers, to the Frances Annette Scott Revocable Trust. Scott co-founded Solantic in 2001 and was involved in its operation until last year. His wife's trust now holds enough stock in the private company to control it." People fall for this greater good and savings bs that these corrupt politicians push every yr. Now he wants to do randoms which is gonna cost at least $3.5 million, plus another $105,000 at least, to get it in place. |So, that means millions of dollars are being wasted, not saved on this program, much more than it would save the state.

  23. Kristen Adkins

    They didn't mention the fact that Rick Scott and his wife invested $62 million of their money into the drug testing facility that were performing the drug tests, and people think he was doing this to save the taxpayers money lol.

  24. Kristen Adkins

    So what about the cancer patients on temporary medicaid that smoke mj so they can eat, and go for more than 5min wiithout throwing up after chemo? This was the position my friend was in, and before I talked her into trying it she weighed 85lbs. Now she's almost through with treatment, gained 35 lbs because of marijuana, and we don't think she would have made it without mj.
    You people think this is a good idea, without thinking about everyone it will effect. Most of you have welfare recipients pictured as some ghetto mom that keeps shitting out kids to stay on welfare, smokes weed everyday, gets their nails done, has brand new Iphones, and has never worked a day in her life. The biggest number of new welfare signups, are military vets with PTSD and other disabilities. What about them? Some of them have been prescribed mj, for their injuries.
    Also, they don't mention in the article that Rick Scott and his wife invested $62 million into the drug testing facilities that handle the drug testing, before this law was passed. It's not about saving taxpayer money, it's about punishing the poor and Ricky making money off of them. Maybe you should reasearch this and think about it, when the next bill like this comes up in your state.

  25. Mary Ann Sawant

    The law is not unconstitutional as the Constitution, or 4 amendment of "Search and Seize" go hand in hand. You cannot separate the two and just search if there is no government seizing. It would only be unconstitutional for the state to go into one's home and seize the drugs after finding out the applicant is using them.

  26. Rick Brown

    Has anyone commented that Governor Scott owns the drug testing company? He doesn't care about children. Mo' money, Mo' money!

  27. Jimmy Johnston

    This will take a while, let's start with the farmers and oil companies since they receive the largest subsidies out of everyone.

  28. Trena Pelsy Garrison

    Hey, I had to take a drug test as a REQUIREMENT for a job, and that was somewhere around 1999! Following hiring, there was a zero tolerance for drugs or coming to work with alcohol breath, etc. I was not working with the public or was not working with any kind of sensitive information, etc. Just a job. About 10 yrs prior to that job, I was fingerprinted upon hiring! Again, just a job. Nothing particularly sensitive. Did not handle money, etc. So YES, I fully support drug testing for any and all jobs, and for all people on any kind of government assistance/welfare.

  29. Trena Pelsy Garrison

    Julie…I was drug tested some years ago, and the job offer was pending a clean test. So apparently it is legal to test. This was not a govt. job or for anything "sensitive". Just a job. Some years before that I was fingerprinted. Same thing. Just a job. Nothing sensitive. I totally support drug testing for ANY job!

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