Court: Florida Welfare Applicant Drug Testing Unconstitutional

MIAMI, Florida -- The 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that a Florida law mandating that all applicants for the state’s temporary cash assistance program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) submit to drug tests violates the 4th Amendment’s protection against unreasonable government searches.

“Of course, citizens do not abandon all hope of privacy by applying for government assistance. By virtue of poverty, TANF applicants are not stripped of their legitimate expectations of privacy — they are not employees in dangerous vocations or students subject to the parens patriae power of the state," the Court of Appeals ruled.  "...the collection and testing of urine intrudes upon expectations of privacy that society has long recognized as reasonable.”

Today’s ruling is the fourth time the law has been rejected by a federal court since it was challenged by the ACLU of Florida on behalf of Luis Lebron, a single father, Navy veteran, and then-college student.  In October 2011, U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven enjoined enforcement of the law by entering a preliminary injunction.  Governor Scott appealed that injunction, which was upheld by the 11th Circuit in February 2013.  Judge Scriven issued a final judgment in December 2013, and the State appealed that ruling to the 11th Circuit as well.

“The 11th Circuit has affirmed that the 4th Amendment applies to everyone, even those applying for government assistance” stated Randall Berg, Executive Director of the Florida Justice Institute and co-counsel with the ACLU.  “The same rationale for requiring suspicionless drug tests of TANF recipients could be used to require suspicionless searches for any kind of government benefit, whether it is social security, farm subsidies, or student scholarships.  Today, the court has rejected that rationale, drawing a clear line that will keep us from going down that slippery slope.”

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