A federal judge struck down Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s controversial welfare drug testing law this week. A blatant violation of the Constitution, the judge ruled as such saying that the law encroached upon citizen protections against unreasonable searches.
Judge Mary Scriven of the United States District Court of Orlando ruled that “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.” Scriven put a preliminary injunction on the law in 2011, temporarily nullifying it.
The law, enacted in July 2011, required parents applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to submit to drug urinalysis for which they also had to pay. Families needing federal aid for food and other amenities were forced to pay $25 to $45 for tests which the state would eventually repay should they pass the urinalysis. A positive test resulted in no repayment and suspension from aid for a year.
Stubbornly, Scott said that he would file an appeal to the Orlando judge’s ruling. Welfare drug testing was a large part of Scott’s platform. He defends it by saying it was designed to prevent children from being raised in homes by drug users. His lawyers said that TANF recipients are a “special interest” exception to the 4th Amendment. However, denying federal aid to such families would only further harm children as there would be no supplement to purchase food.
“Any illegal drug use in a family is harmful and even abusive to a child. We should have a zero tolerance policy for illegal drug use in families — especially those families who struggle to make ends meet and need welfare assistance to provide for their children,” Scott said in a statement.
The drug test law also extends to state employees and has inspired lawsuits against Scott. In June 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of state workers against Scott alleging an overreach in his powers and invasion of privacy. That same year, the ACLU filed another lawsuit on behalf of Navy veteran, college student, and single father Luis Lebron.
Upon applying for TANF benefits, Lebron was ordered to submit to urinalysis but refused because it violated his constitutional rights he said. The court ruled in Lebron’s favor as Circuit Judge Rosemary Barkett said that the state failed to prove any “special” or “immediate” need for the law. As statistics have shown, the percentage of TANF applicants who give a positive result is very low.
The law was only active from July 2011 and October 2011. The Department of Children and Families reported that during that time, 2.6 percent of 4,068 Florida TANF applicants gave a positive-result drug test. And in most cases, the positive result was only for marijuana.
Joshua de Leon is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.