Appeals Court Hears Challenge to Florida Drug-Testing Law for Welfare Recipients

Arguments were heard in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in Florida's appeal of a lower court Thursday on the decision halting enforcement of a 2011 state law mandating drug tests of applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Basically, the law says that those who apply for welfare benefits must not only take and pass a drug test, they also have to pay for it.

Last year, District Judge Mary Scriven temporarily blocked the law, saying essentially that it may violate a constitutional ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. The drug testing program was challenged by the ACLU of Florida on behalf of of Luis Lebron, an Orlando Navy veteran, a single father who had applied for temporary assistance in July of '11 to support his 4-year-old son.

The state appealed the decision, arguing that the drug testing promotes family stability and child welfare. ACLU says that drug testing is not only a violation of the Fourth Amendment but that it assumes all people on welfare use drugs.

"We thank the Court of Appeals for the opportunity to argue in defense of the Fourth Amendment rights of TANF applicants," Maria Kayanan, associate legal director of the ACLU of Florida and lead counsel in the case, said in a statement released Thursday.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Florida is the first state to institute such a law since Michigan tried it back in 1999. An appeals court eventually ruled the Michigan law unconstitutional.

"As we stated before the lower court, government cannot treat an entire group of citizens like suspected criminals and subject them to invasive and suspicionless searches without cause," Kayanan says. "Individuals do not lose their Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches simply because they need some extra assistance to make ends meet for their families. We look forward to the court's decision in this case."

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Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph