In a ruling handed down on December 31st, U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven gave a thumbs down to a law passed in the State of Florida to require drug tests for people applying for welfare benefits. As part of her ruling, she stated “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.” There was already an injunction in place putting a temporary ban on the law, and that ban will now be permanent.
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”—Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
I haven’t seen a written copy of her ruling online, but from my viewpoint, that ruling shouldn’t have taken 10 minutes to reach. Simply applying for welfare benefits is not enough to satisfy the conditions of the Fourth Amendment’s probable cause for a search. Peeing in a cup is a personal search, whether most people realize it or not. If you volunteer that sample, then no warrant is necessary or needed. The government can not compel you to give a sample without a warrant though. In obtaining that warrant, there has to be probable cause to issue that warrant. A person applying for welfare is not probable cause for a personal search.
This is not the first time such a law has been struck down by the courts. In 2003, the courts struck down a similar law passed in Michigan. Undeterred, numerous states have passed these laws with the same Fourth Amendment to the Constitution still in effect unchanged.
I understand the emotional aspect of the debate. Emotion does not trump law though, at least in the USA it doesn’t. No politician or political party should ever put emotion over the Constitution either. While it feels good when you want to piss on the rights of those with whom you disagree, I’m sure that same person doing the pissing would be pissed off at someone trying to eat away at his constitutionally protected rights.
There are numerous ways to combat the perception of drugged out welfare users. The first thing is to join reality. From the previous testing done in Michigan and Florida, drug use amongst welfare recipients was not any greater than the general public. That should show there is no huge segment of drug users applying for welfare, regardless to what ideology and/or rhetoric says. Some people eat, sleep, and crap rhetoric so I think that will be much easier said than done here. That does not mean that we shouldn’t try to rid ourselves of this out-of-touch thinking. A big help would be for the media to stop pushing the false narratives and actually return to investigative reporting as opposed to the sensationalism crap we’re having thrust upon us.
Next, for those who do use drugs, treatment is likely a better option that criminalization. America has 25% of the world’s prison population, and that’s fueled by our “lock’em up for anything” mentality. Prison does not help drug users nowhere near as much as getting them help to break their addiction does. We’ve had our “War on Drugs” for almost as long as I’ve been alive, and we are getting our ass kicked as drug usage is still as much an issue now as it was 30 years ago. Just saying “No” doesn’t work.
Finally, gainful employment would do more to slow down the application and disbursement of welfare than anything else. When people have employment that helps them live, they don’t need welfare, nor do they meet the requirements to qualify for welfare. In allowing companies to squash pay to the point where the minimum wage has about half the buying power it did decades ago, America has set itself up to become a welfare dependent nation.
Hopefully, Georgia, North Carolina, and the other states passing these “waste of time” laws will see the light and do away with them before the court does. I don’t want to hear the whining about “activist judges” when they are simply ensuring the laws that are being passed meets Constitutional muster. We have more than enough other issues to deal with right now, so any side-show legislation to give a moral victory to the ideology is a waste of time.
- Florida Law on Drug Testing for Welfare Is Struck Down (nytimes.com)
- Judge nixes Florida’s welfare drug testing (foxnews.com)
- Scott vows to appeal latest ruling on drug tests for TANF (miamiherald.typepad.com)
- Florida Judge Rules Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Unconstitutional: Nothing So Immediate About Government Interest in Drug Free Recipients That Warrants Suspending Fourth Amendment (reason.com)