Another court slams Gov. Scott on drug testing

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Once again, Rick Scott has had his plans to drug test Floridians thwarted by a judge — this time by the three justices who comprise the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court has ruled that a 2011 Florida law mandating that all applicants for the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program submit to  suspicionless drug tests violates the Constitution’s protection against unreasonable government searches.

“By virtue of poverty, TANF applicants are not stripped of their legitimate expectations of privacy,” Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus wrote for the three-judge panel. “If we are to give meaning to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on blanket government searches, we must — and we do — hold that (the law) crosses the constitutional line.”

The law was originally challenged by the ACLU and the Florida Justice Institute in September 2011, on behalf of Luis Lebron, a single father, Navy veteran, and then-college student.

The 11th Circuit panel’s order rejects arguments made by attorneys for the State of Florida that government has the authority to require people to submit to invasive searches of their bodily fluids without suspicion of wrongdoing, stating “the warrantless, suspicionless urinalysis drug testing of every Florida TANF applicant as a mandatory requirement for receiving Temporary Cash Assistance offends the Fourth Amendment.”

“We are very pleased by the Court’s opinion, which once again makes clear that the U.S. Constitution forbids the State of Florida from subjecting ordinary private citizens to invasive and unwarranted searches,” stated ACLU of Florida associate legal director Maria Kayanan in a press release. “This is a resounding affirmation of the values that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects – that none of us can be forced to submit to invasive and humiliating searches at the whim of the government, and that the Constitution protects the poor and the wealthy alike. The Court has once again confirmed what we argued all along: that the state of Florida cannot treat an entire class of people like suspected criminals simply because they’ve asked the State for temporary assistance.”

The ruling is the fourth time the State’s arguments in support of the 2011 law have been rejected by a federal court since it was challenged by the ACLU of Florida shortly after going into effect.

Judge Marcus is the same justice who wrote the opinion that rejected the other portion of the governor’s executive order on drug testing Floridians — in that case, state workers.

Marcus also wrote the opinion that struck down Scott’s attempt to randomly test state workers in suspicionless drug tests. The governor’s 2011 executive order called for requiring state workers to randomly submit to drug tests and pushed for the law that required welfare applicants to supply urine samples and pay for drug tests. During the short time the law was in effect, fewer than two percent of welfare applicants tested positive.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.