Florida ACLU Obtains Judge’s Injunction Against Welfare Drug-Testing Law

This is the sort of thing that one used to expect courts to do as a routine matter of protecting individuals’ rights:

A U.S. district judge on Monday ordered an injunction on a Florida law requiring welfare applicants to pass a drug test before receiving state benefits.

An ACLU lawsuit filed in September claimed the Florida law violates the Fourth Amendment by requiring welfare applicants to submit to a “suspicionless” drug test. The suit was filed on behalf of Luis Lebron, a 35-year-old Orlando resident and Navy veteran who applied for welfare benefits but refused to take the drug test.

“I’m delighted for our client and delighted to have confirmation that all of us remain protected from unreasonable, suspicionless government searches and seizures,” Florida ACLU Legal Director Maira Kayanan said in a release.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has insisted the law increases “personal responsibility” and keeps public funds from financing drug habits. Scott has even said that drug use is “much higher” among welfare recipients than in the population at large. Early results from the drug tests suggest otherwise. And the court isn’t buying Scott’s claim.

I think Rick Scott should be drug-tested every morning, noon and night until he’s completely desiccated and can’t pee anymore. Look, this is really fairly simple: you can’t do a Fourth Amendment search without a warrant, and you can’t obtain a warrant without showing probable cause:

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.

Pretty straightforward, isn’t it. You can’t go out and search everybody, or everybody in a class, just because you think people in that class are more likely to carry contraband (illegal drugs in this case) than other people. The Constitution requires you to be very specific about what your probable cause is to believe a particular individual has an illegal substance in his or her possession. “Jones was seen on a videotape yesterday evening at 7:00 P.M. meeting with a previously convicted drug dealer; we witnessed the exchange of money and packages” should get you a warrant; “I just know drug use is much higher among welfare recipients” should not. You have to go before a judge and present your argument, under oath, to obtain a warrant to search that individual. Particularity is a requirement, not merely a nicety. Judges are reportedly far from unreasonable about issuing warrants, but neither do they put up with crap like what Gov. Scott is spewing.

This may put an end to this deplorable law, but I wouldn’t bet on it. And, Fourth Amendment notwithstanding, I wouldn’t even bet on today’s Supreme Court to uphold the ruling. We live in parlous times.

AND ON IT GOES: ICE agents, allegedly shouting racist epithets, burst down a door to a residence without a warrant… “the warrant is coming out of my balls.” Our civil liberties are in grave danger, and nowhere more so than in homes of people of color.

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  • fallenmonk  On Monday October 24, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    I knew when I first read about that law that it wouldn’t survive a 4th amendment challenge. It is patently unconstitutional.
    BTW ….you win I had to look up parlous. I, at first, thought it a typo.

    • Steve  On Monday October 24, 2011 at 7:58 pm

      No contest intended, fallenmonk; I have a predisposition to use archaic language sometimes. Doing so is the only way we can have archaic and eat it too. <grin_duck_run />

      This is why I continue to support the ACLU with a lot of enthusiasm and a little money. The Bill of Rights has been poked so full of holes that I despair of its surviving another decade.

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