Rick Scott's Wanting to Drug-Test Welfare Recipients Shot Down by Federal Court

Rick Scott's Wanting to Drug-Test Welfare Recipients Shot Down by Federal Court
Michele Eve Sandberg

Back in May of 2011, Rick Scott signed into law a bill requiring that Florida's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare recipients pass a drug test. That's right. Scott wanted poor people needing government assistance to first piss into a cup before begin granted said assistance.

This, in turn, led to the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida to call the bill an invasive, mandatory bodily-fluid search. A federal judge then agreed that the bill was an invasion of privacy and personal dignity to thousands and a violation of the Fourth Amendment. But undeterred by this legal blockage to getting poor people's pee, Scott appealed that decision.

On Wednesday, in a 54-page ruling, a federal appeals court shot the governor down once again, saying that there is no reason to believe "impoverished individuals are necessarily and inherently prone to drug use, or, for that matter, are more prone to drug use than the general population."

In 2011, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Luis Lebron, a single dad and TANF applicant who refused to take Scott's test on the grounds that it infringed on his constitutional rights.

At the time, the Middle District of Florida agreed that the government isn't allowed to just demand welfare recipients' blood or urine willy-nilly without a really, really, lawfully good reason and issued an injunction barring the state from enforcing the unconstitutional law.

Scott appealed that injunction, but a three-judge panel in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta unanimously ruled that the lower court was right to halt the law. That's when Scott took his appeal to the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Now, the case of Scott-wanting-poor-people's-pee-because-only-poor-people-do-drugs may be over... though the Scott administration says it's "reviewing the ruling."

Judge Stanley Marcus' ruling points out obvious issues with Scott's desire to have welfare applicants drug-tested. Mostly, it boils down to the fact that poor people do have rights.

"Citizens do not abandon all hope of privacy by applying for government assistance," Marcus writes, adding that "the collection and testing of urine intrudes upon expectations of privacy that society has long recognized as reasonable [...] by virtue of poverty, TANF applicants are not stripped of their legitimate expectations of privacy."

Marcus also pointed out that, despite the Scott administration's saying the drug-testing was necessary, it was still a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

"In the final analysis, the warrantless, suspicionless urinalysis drug testing of every Florida TANF applicant as a mandatory requirement for receiving Temporary Cash Assistance offends the Fourth Amendment," he writes.

"We respect the State's overarching and laudable desire to promote work, protect families, and conserve resources. But, above all else, we must enforce the Constitution and the limits it places on government," he concluded.

Send your story tips to the author, Chris Joseph. Follow Chris Joseph on Twitter




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