Of course: Federal judge rules Rick Scott’s drug testing of state workers in unconstitutional

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A Miami federal judge has ruled that Gov. Rick Scott’s attempt to require drug testing for state workers is unconstitutional. In a ruling dated Wednesday and posted online Thursday, U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro found that Scott’s issuance last year of an executive order requiring drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. The 37-page opinion also found that Scott did not justify the need for the tests.

Governor Scott signed the testing order (No. 11-58) on March 22, 2011 and the ACLUFL and AFSCME filed the legal challenge just five weeks later on May 31, 2011. Just a few days later, on June 10, 2011 – just days after the suit was filed – Governor Scott retreated on his Order and issued a Memo suspending implementation of drug testing. The Governor’s June Memo did continue to authorize testing of employees in the Florida Department of Corrections.

“Today’s ruling is important because it reinforces the bright line which government may not cross,” said ACLU cooperating attorney Peter Walsh. “If the state is going to require a drug test as a condition of keeping your job, it needs to have a reason and simply being against drugs isn’t enough.”

In 2011, the Florida Legislature passed and Governor Scott signed a law requiring mandatory drug testing for applicants for temporary cash assistance. Like the Governor’s Executive Order, the law required testing of everyone regardless of suspicion. The ACLUFL challenged the law in 2011 and a federal court in Orlando blocked implementation of that law in September, 2011.

“The Governor can’t order the state to search people’s bodily fluids for no reason – the Constitution prohibits that sort of government intrusion,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLUFL. “And the Governor can’t demand that people surrender their constitutional rights for the privilege of working for the state or receiving some other government benefit.”

The ACLUFL and AFCME challenged Scott’s March, 2011 Executive Order because it violated the Fourth Amendment which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. Today’s ruling found that, consistent with other established court decisions, requiring drug testing of employees without individual suspicion of drug use or a demonstrated public safety need violates the Constitution.

“With her order today, Judge Ungaro has protected the privacy and personal dignity of tens of thousands of Florida’s best and brightest – our state workforce,” said Alma Gonzalez, Special Counsel of AFSCME Council 79, which brought the suit. “There never was any evidence that state employees used drugs more than any other group so this was a case of using hard working state employees to score political points.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.