Victory for Privacy as Federal Court’s Final Order Bars Law Requiring TANF Applicants Submit to Suspicionless Drug Tests

Summary judgment declares urinalysis law championed by Gov. Scott unconstitutional

December 31, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

ORLANDO Today, a District Court issued a final judgment declaring Florida’s 2011 law mandating all applicants for the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program submit to suspicionless drug tests is an unconstitutional violation of the protection against unreasonable government searches. The decision comes as the result of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, with co-counsel Florida Justice Institute, on behalf of Luis Lebron, a Navy veteran and single father from Orlando, challenging the 2011 law.

In the order, Judge Mary Scriven of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida rejects the state’s arguments and evidence defending the constitutionality of the suspicionless search program, stating that the court "finds there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied."

"This is a victory not just for Luis and his family, but for all Floridians who would have been forced to submit to invasive and humiliating searches of their bodily fluids just because they need temporary help making ends meet," stated Maria Kayanan, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida and lead attorney on the case. "In reconfirming that the Fourth Amendment protects all of us, regardless of wealth or status, Judge Scriven’s decision soundly rejects the notion that the government can treat an entire class of Floridians like suspected criminals simply for being poor. We are thrilled to ring in the New Year with the Court’s opinion."

Luis Lebron, who is also the sole caretaker of his disabled mother, was a 35 year-old full-time student at the University of Central Florida when he applied for temporary assistance in July 2011, to support his then 4-year-old son. When informed that he would be subjected to a humiliating and invasive search without cause or suspicion, Lebron refused to waive his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure by submitting to the newly-required drug test.

"I’m really pleased with the court’s decision," stated Lebron. "This confirms what I believed all along – that what the government was asking people like me and my family to do was wrong. I’m proud that standing up against that is going to make a difference for other families like mine."

"The Court today affirmed that the 4th Amendment protects everyone, including those who need temporary assistance from the government," stated Randall Berg of the Florida Justice Institute and co-counsel with the ACLU. "Requiring suspicionless drug testing of TANF recipients is a slippery slope toward requiring drug testing for the receipt of any kind of government benefit, including social security, farm subsidies, and student scholarships.  A clear line must be drawn, and the court did so today."

Today’s decision follows a previous preliminary injunction ordered by the court which halted enforcement of the law several months after it went into effect. That injunction was appealed by the state and upheld by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in February. Despite public claims by Governor Scott, who had campaigned on the law, that welfare applicants are more likely than the general population to be drug users and therefore should be subjected to indiscriminate and invasive  searches, the number of applicants who tested positive for drugs during the short window of time when the law was in effect was so low that the state spent thousands more dollars reimbursing those who tested negative, and then hiring an expert, whom the court excluded,  to attempt to prove its presumption of drug use, than it saved on distributions to those screened out.

"The policy now struck down by the federal courts was based on a misguided campaign pledge by Gov. Rick Scott," stated Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. "He misled his supporters about the requirements of the Constitution, and, instead of protecting Floridians with the greatest need, he appealed to ugly prejudices and false stereotypes about people applying for temporary assistance from the state."

"Since Gov. Scott took office just two years ago, we have filed or intervened in at least 10 lawsuits challenging his policies, including this assault on the rights of those needing temporary assistance that is the subject of today’s rebuke by the state," added Simon. "These cases have also defended privacy rights against mandatory urine tests for state workers, protected the right to vote, defended the separation of church and state, and guarded the freedom of speech for doctors to discuss gun safety with their parents. For a Governor who claims to honor the Constitution and abhor the government’s abuse of power, it is past time to end his crusade against the constitutional rights of the people of Florida."

From today’s decision:

"In sum, there simply is no competent evidence offered on this record of the sort of pervasive drug problem the State envisioned in the promulgation of this statute. Hence, even if the State intended to hinge its demanded exception to the Fourth Amendment on this thin reed … it has failed to make the evidentiary showing that would be required."

The full order is available at:
aclufl.org/resources/district-court-order-on-summary-judgment-in-lebron-v-wilkins/

More information on the case is available at:
aclufl.org/?p=2778

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