ACLU Calls on Department of Education to Halt Enforcement of Law That Refuses Financial Aid to Students With Drug Convictions

May 26, 2006

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: media@aclu.org

ABERDEEN, SD - The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a motion in federal court seeking an order that would immediately bar the Department of Education from enforcing a provision of the Higher Education Act that denies financial aid to students convicted of a drug offense. The aid elimination penalty has blocked aid to approximately 200,000 would-be students since its enactment in 2000.

"All students deserve an education," said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. "The Court should suspend enforcement of the aid elimination penalty until the constitutional issues have been resolved."

Both the current motion asking the court to halt enforcement of the law and the ACLU’s initial legal complaint, filed March 22, argue that the aid elimination penalty violates students’ constitutional rights and disproportionately affects low-income students who cannot independently afford the cost of post-secondary education. The Department of Education also filed a motion today asking the court to dismiss the ACLU’s constitutional challenge.

The ACLU’s legal papers point out that the aid elimination penalty unconstitutionally punishes people twice for the same offense, violating the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. According to the ACLU, the ban also irrationally designates a class of people, those with drug convictions, as unworthy of educational aid, violating the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause. Part of the Bill of Rights, the Fifth Amendment protects Americans from federal government overreach.

The ACLU’s class action lawsuit is brought on behalf of the thousands of students nationwide impacted by the penalty, including the national organization Students for Sensible Drug Policy, as well as three individuals denied aid under the provision.

The case, SSDP v. Spellings, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota. Margaret Spellings, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, is named as the defendant.

The ACLU’s current motion for a preliminary injunction may be viewed online at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/youth/25690lgl20060526.html

Further background on the case, including the initial ACLU complaint, may be found online at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/gen/24713prs20060322.html

A recent SSDP report on the state-by-state impact of the penalty can be found at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/youth/25691res20060417.html

For a list of organizations supporting full repeal of the aid elimination penalty, see: www.raiseyourvoice.com/supporters.shtml

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