Federal judge: Rick Scott’s drug testing of state workers unconstitutional
A federal judge in Miami found on Thursday that Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s requirement that all state workers undergo drug testing is unconstitutional.
In a 37-page opinion (PDF), U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro ruled that Scott’s executive order for blanket testing of 85,000 state employees violated the ban on unreasonable search and seizures.
“The Supreme Court maintains that the government, unlike private employers, can test its employees for illegal drug use only when the testing is consistent with the Fourth Amendment,” Ungaro wrote.
“To be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, a search ordinarily must be based on individualized suspicion of wrongdoing,” the judge added. “The privacy interests infringed upon here outweigh the public interest sought. That is a fatal mix under the prevailing precedents.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLUFL), which challenged the executive order on behalf of two labor unions, hailed the judge’s ruling.
“The Governor can’t order the state to search people’s bodily fluids for no reason – the Constitution prohibits that sort of government intrusion,” ACLUFL Executive Director Howard Simon said in a press advisory. “And the Governor can’t demand that people surrender their constitutional rights for the privilege of working for the state or receiving some other government benefit.”
“Today’s ruling is important because it reinforces the bright line which government may not cross,” ACLU cooperating attorney Peter Walsh explained. “If the state is going to require a drug test as a condition of keeping your job, it needs to have a reason and simply being against drugs isn’t enough.”
Scott originally signed the order on March 22, 2011, but later suspended it on June 10, 2011 after lawsuits were filed. On Thursday, he promised to appeal the ruling.
“As I have repeatedly explained, I believe that drug testing state employees is a common sense means of ensuring a safe, efficient and productive workforce,” the governor insisted in a statement. “That is why so many private employers drug test, and why the public and Florida’s taxpayers overwhelmingly support this policy. I respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling and will pursue the case on appeal.”
The ruling could also impact existing executive orders requiring drug testing of employees in the Florida Department of Corrections and random drug testing for other state employees.
A recent New York Times report found that laws requiring drug testing of welfare recipients in Florida and other states actually cost more money than they saved. Over a period of four months, only 2.6 percent of Floridians seeking welfare failed the tests. Because the state is required to reimburse the costs of negative tests, Florida paid $45,780 more than it would have without the law.