Judge Halts Enforcement of Unconstitutional Law Mandating Drug Tests for Temporary Assistance Applicants

October 24, 2011

ACLU Challenged Law on Behalf of Navy Vet, Stated Law Violates fourth Amendment

ORLANDO – As the result of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute (FJI), today U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven halted enforcement of Florida’s new law mandating drug tests for all applicants for the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The judge ruled that the compelled drug testing is a search under the 4th Amendment, and that individuals retain a right of privacy against such intrusive, suspicionless searches by the state, even when applying for temporary assistance.

“I’m delighted for our client and delighted to have confirmation that all of us remain protected from unreasonable, suspicionless government searches and seizures,” said Maria Kayanan, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida who is lead counsel in the case.

The ACLU of Florida and FJI challenged the law in a suit filed on September 6, 2011 in the Middle District of Florida on behalf of Luis Lebron, a 35 year-old Orlando resident, Navy veteran and full time University of Central Florida student.

Lebron is a single father who applied for temporary assistance in July, 2011, to support his 4 year-old son, but refused to waive his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure and submit to the newly-required drug test. “I’m very happy with the decision today – happy that the Judge stood up for me and my rights and said the State can’t act without a reason or suspicion,” stated Lebron on today’s ruling.

The judge found that the state showed no “special need” to drug test all TANF applicants. In passing this law, the State pointedly ignored a pilot study that it had commissioned to study the incidence of drug use among TANF applicants. Today, the Court corrected the Legislature’s deliberate oversight, and cited that study, which the judge wrote “debunked the assumptions of the State, and likely many laypersons, regarding TANF applicants and drug use.” The Court also dismissed a report by the Foundation for Government Accountability, which extolled the savings the State would enjoy through this program, and referred to the study as “not competent expert opinion.”

“This should send a message to all lawmakers that the 4th Amendment protects everyone,” stated Randall Berg of the Florida Justice Institute and co-counsel with the ACLU.

“The governor and the Legislature sent their lawyers into court to advance a very startling proposition. They argued that some Floridians, namely poor families with children who qualify for temporary public assistance, are not protected by the Constitution of the United States,” stated ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon. “This extreme position – that if the state provides assistance to someone it can conduct a privacy-invading physical search – is especially startling coming from a Governor who campaigned to stop government from trampling on the rights of the people.”

A copy of today’s order is available here:

www.aclufl.org/pdfs/2011-10-24-ACLUTanfOrder.pdf

 

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