Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Eleventh Circuit Finalizes Rejection of Constitutionality of Florida Drug Testing of Welfare Recipients
In its 54 page opinion today in Lebron v. Sec't Florida Dep't of Children & Families, a unanimous panel of the Eleventh Circuit held that Florida Statute §414.0652 requiring drug testing of all persons who receive public benefits is unconstitutional.
Recall that a previous panel (of three different judges) had affirmed a district judge's grant of a preliminary injunction against the statute. The district judge then entered a permanent injunction and this appeal followed.
Today's opinion holds that the statute violates the Fourth Amendment because Florida "failed to meet its burden of establishing a substantial special need to drug test all TANF applicants without any suspicion." Importantly, the court also held that
the State cannot circumvent constitutional concerns by requiring that applicants consent to a drug test to receive TANF payments. When a government benefit is conditioned on suspicionless drug testing, the voluntariness of the program is properly viewed as a factor baked into the special needs reasonableness analysis, not as an exception to it.
The court rejected Florida's reliance "on unconstitutional conditions cases that arose in different contexts," such as Rust v. Sullivan, stating that "the consent inquiry is included within the special needs analysis" in the Fourth Amendment context.
The court concludes:
the State cannot use consent of the kind exacted here -- where it is made a condition of receiving government benefits -- to wholly replace the special needs balancing analysis. 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. If we are to give meaning to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on blanket government searches, we must -- and we do -- hold that § 414.0652 crosses the constitutional line.
While Florida and its governor have been adamant in defending the constitutionality of mandatory drug-testing, the federal courts have been just as adamant that such drug-testing is unconstitutional. But perhaps Florida will seek certiorari and a chance to validate this policy.