We don’t know why Gov. Rick Scott convinced himself blanket screening of people for drugs — state employees and job seekers and welfare recipients — was a good, or even legal, idea. But he was so convinced, he appealed multiple adverse rulings of employee drug testing all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined Monday to hear Florida’s appeal of a lower court ruling that such testing was unconstitutional. Another appeal regarding his unconstitutional welfare drug testing program is ongoing.
There was never any doubt. The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, although case law has also upheld the right of private businesses to test for drugs. The same is not true for governments. Requiring government employees, job applicants and benefit recipients to prove they aren’t on drugs has repeatedly been deemed unconstitutional. Scott wasted taxpayer money arguing otherwise and should now give up his challenge to a December 2013 federal court ruling that declared it unconstitutional.
“The court finds there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied,” U.S. District Court Judge Mary S. Scriven wrote of the welfare drug testing.
The Supreme Court ruling on state employees and applicants upheld an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that only employees in risky jobs, such as law enforcement or operators of heavy machinery, could be subject to drug testing. The state has yet to identify those jobs as it pursued its appeal. On Monday, Scott released a defiant, yet Quixotic statement, saying, “The merits of this case are still being deliberated in the U.S. Southern District Court, and we will continue to fight to make sure all state employees, who are paid by taxpayer funds, can work in a safe, drug free workplace.”
Scott’s statement ignores the fact that the 11th Circuit ruling struck down universal random testing, deriding the state’s arguments as the “highest order of abstraction.” The only issue left to resolve is which jobs will be deemed risky and subject to testing.
Scott also ignores the fact that testing done before the policy was banned showed no widespread drug abuse. The 11th Circuit found that “the results of the state’s random testing reveals that there is substantially less of a drug problem among state employees than among the general working population as a whole.”
Scott’s drug testing policy, first applied to welfare recipients in 2011, also failed to uncover any widespread drug use — only 108 out of 4,086 people tested positive for narcotics — and the policy cost twice as much money than it saved, even before adding in legal costs to fight court rulings. The 2.6 percent of applicants who tested positive is nearly four times lower than the estimated use of illegal drugs in the general population.
Politically inspired policies typically run into collisions with reality. The idea of testing people who have government jobs or receive government assistance polls well with people who are inclined to dislike the government. Scott tapped that rich vein of Florida voters to win election in 2008.
Drug testing was never about public safety and saving money, it was about pushing the hot buttons of a particular constituency.