Judge Sticks It to Rick Scott By Ruling Drug Testing of Welfare Recipients Unconstitutional

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On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven struck down a 2011 Florida law requiring welfare applicants to undergo drug tests as an unconstitutional infringement on personal privacy. Scriven issued a lengthy and emphatic statement declaring that the law violated the Fourth Amendment. She argued that :

There is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied.

The judge’s ruling struck a major blow to Florida Governor Rick Scott who is a vocal proponent for drug testing TANF recipients. Judge Scriven noted that the state of Florida failed to show that TANF recipients used drugs at a higher rate than other Florida residents, and even if they did she argued that the law would still violate the Fourth Amendment.

Just two percent of Florida welfare applicants tested positive for drug use in 2011, while 96 percent were drug free (an additional two percent failed to complete the application process and were not tested). Roughly nine percent of American adults use illicit drugs,a percentage that is much higher among the general population than it is among welfare recipients. Despite stereotypes to the contrary, most welfare recipients are drug free.

Requiring TANF recipients to submit to drug tests not only violates their constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches, but it is also not cost effective since so few applicants test positive for drug use. The cost of administering the tests essentially cancels out the amount of money saved from rejected welfare applications.

Rick Scott’s state of Florida attorneys are expected to contest the ruling. They have consistently argued that TANF recipients should be considered a “special interest” exception to the Fourth Amendment. However, the governor’s argument that poor people are a special class of people who should be exempt from constitutional protections is an argument that has yet again not held up in court.

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