Sometimes government attempts to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. This may be done to win political points. But when the attempt includes blanket searches of everyone involved, questions involving the Fourth Amendment are implicated.
Florida has attempted to prevent people who use drugs to participate in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. They instituted a system of drug testing for anyone attempting to obtain these benefits.
However, the State of Florida failed to show anything beyond a vague and generalized abstraction that people on the TANF program have substance abuse or drug problems and that it presents a specialized need that the courts require to allow an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.
The state argued that it has an interest in the welfare of children and needs to prevent drug use that would divert TANF funds from providing for the essential needs of those children. The court dismissed this argument as expressing little more than a general concern that could apply to all parents.
Suspicionless drug testing must satisfy the special needs doctrine. The doctrine allows invasions of the privacy interest of people where an important governmental interest is furthered and the nature of the invasion is minimal.
These types of searches are typically allowed for public safety, such as customs officers who carry guns. It has also been permitted in the supervision of children who participate in school athletics.
This case presents none of those concerns and next week we will look at the courts analysis of the empirical evidence that Florida asserted justified the suspicionless drug testing program.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, "LUIS W. LEBRON v. SECRETARY OF THE FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES," No. 14-10322, December 3, 2014