Federal court rejects Florida's welfare drug-testing appeal

February 26, 2013 

A federal appeals court upheld the temporary ban on Florida’s drug-testing for welfare recipients Tuesday, saying that a lawsuit against the state had a good chance of succeeding.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta sided with a lower court decision, stating that Florida failed to show that the drug testing plan was so critical that the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches by the government, should be suspended.

The decision—which did not weigh in on the ultimate constitutionality question—is the latest development in Gov. Rick Scott's controversial drug testing push. In 2011,Scott and the Florida Legislature instituted a program for drug-testing all recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Luis Lebron, a single-father and TANF applicant who refused to take the test on constitutional grounds, filed a lawsuit.

In authoring the court’s opinion, Circuit Judge Rosemary Barkett said that Florida had not proven that its drug-testing program serves a “special” or “immediate” need, or that it even protected children in families with substance abuse.

“There is nothing so special or immediate about the government’s interest in ensuring that TANF recipients are drug free so as to warrant suspension of the Fourth Amendment,” Barkett wrote. “The only known and shared characteristic of the individuals who would be subjected to Florida’s mandatory drug testing program is that they are financially needy families with children.”

The court relied on a similar case in Georgia, which struck down the state’s program for requiring all political candidates to take drug tests. That case found that Georgia did not show that there was a drug problem among elected officials, and the law was mostly “symbolic.”

In the rejecting Florida’s appeal to the preliminary injunction, Barkett took a similar position.

“The State has presented no evidence that simply because an applicant for TANF benefits is having financial problems, he is also drug addicted or prone to fraudulent and neglectful behavior,” she wrote.

Florida also passed a law last year requiring drug testing for all state workers, but that issue is also tangled in constitutional challenges and litigation.

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