Federal judge rules that drug testing state workers is unconstitutional
A federal judge in Miami ruled today that Gov. Rick Scott’s executive order mandating that all state workers be randomly drug tested violates the Fourth Amendment rights of people employed by the state.
Scott’s originally halted the order once a lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, but random drug testing policies have remained a priority for the governor.
Groups like the ACLU of Florida have warned Scott that drug testing all state workers without suspicion is unconstitutional since he first announced that drug testing people who receive money from the government — which has included welfare beneficiaries and state employees — would be a priority.
So far, judges have deemed both attempts unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro ruled Thursday that blanket testing of some 85,000 workers violates the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.
Scott’s order was challenged by a labor union representing government workers and the American Civil Liberties Union. They contended that drug testing should only be done if there is a suspected problem and in safety-related and high-risk jobs.
Lawyers for the governor contend that objecting workers are free to quit and job applicants could choose to find employment elsewhere.
“The Governor can’t order the state to search people’s bodily fluids for no reason – the Constitution prohibits that sort of government intrusion,” Howard Simon, the executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement today. “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.”
The ACLU of Florida said in a press release today:
“Today’s ruling is important because it reinforces the bright line which government may not cross,” said ACLU cooperating attorney Peter Walsh. “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.”
In 2011, the Florida Legislature passed and Governor Scott signed a law requiring mandatory drug testing for applicants for temporary cash assistance. Like the Governor’s Executive Order, the law required testing of everyone regardless of suspicion. The ACLUFL challenged the law in 2011 and a federal court in Orlando blocked implementation of that law in September, 2011.
This ruling could also have an effect on this year’s attempt by the governor to drug test state workers.
Just one day after Scott signed a bill that expands random drug testing to include state workers that are not in “safety sensitive” positions and allows agency heads to implement a program allowing for the random drug testing of 10 percent of their workforce every three months, he asked agency heads to hold off implementing the policy. His reason: “because the legal case” involving state workers “remains unresolved.”
“Once the lawsuit is resolved in the State’s favor,” Scott wrote to agency heads in a letter last month, “the Governor will direct agencies to implement Executive Order 11-58 and the new provisions of the Drug Free Workplace Act.”
The law was touted during committee meetings as a way to raise state workers to the same standards as employees of private companies and as a “preventative” measure serving as an “early intervention program” for workers with drug problems. Throughout the bill’s consideration though, even proponents noted that there is no evidence of a drug problem among state workers.
“If the state moves ahead with drug testing applicants for state employment in what is clearly an unconstitutional policy, they will just be inviting another costly, taxpayer financed legal challenge,” Simon said. “Florida leaders appear to have a hard time understanding that the government can’t search people just because a politician thinks it will be popular.”