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]