Federal Judge Mary Scriven Temporarily Blocks Florida’s “Unconstitutional” Welfare Drug Testing Law
A controversial Florida law that mandated drug tests for welfare applicants has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge in Orlando.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, Judge Mary Scriven issued a temporary injunction against the state of Florida over concerns that the law could be unconstitutional. In a 37-page order, Scriven wrote: “The constitutional rights of a class of citizens are at stake,” citing the Fourth Amendment prohibition of illegal search and seizure.
The injunction stems from a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of Luis Lebron, a 35-year-old university student, Navy veteran and single father from Orlando who refused to take a drug test as required by the law when applying for welfare benefits. Lebron argued that the law requiring him to pay for and take the drug test was unreasonable because there is no reason to believe that he is a drug user.
Despite the fact that the state of Florida was well aware that welfare recipients are no more likely to use drugs than the general population, and that 70% of drug users aged 18-49 are employed full-time, Governor Rick Scott pushed hard for and got the drug testing law passed in a state where doing so was politically popular. It turns out that only 2% of new welfare applicants actually failed the test, with more than 7,000 people passing with flying colors. And of that 2%– a whopping 32 applicants, the majority of positive test results were for the relatively harmless plant marijuana. In fact, Judge Scriven cited a state-sanctioned 2003 study that found drug use was lower among welfare recipients than among the population as a whole.
Judge Scriven’s injunction cited the failure of the state to prove “special needs”; saying that probable cause or reasonable suspicion are legal prerequisites for such Fourth Amendment intrusion:
“If invoking an interest in preventing public funds from potentially being used to fund drug use were the only requirement to establish a special need, the state could impose drug testing as an eligibility requirement for every beneficiary of every government program. Such blanket intrusions cannot be countenanced under the Fourth Amendment.”
The governor’s office, of course, does not agree. “Drug testing welfare recipients is just a common-sense way to ensure that welfare dollars are used to help children and get parents back to work,” Jackie Schutz, Scott’s deputy press secretary, told the St. Petersburg Times. “The governor obviously disagrees with the decision, and he will evaluate his options regarding when to appeal.”
Luis Lebron, the plaintiff in the suit, told the Times that he was “happy that the judge stood up for me and my rights and said the state can’t act without a reason or suspicion.”
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