Federal judge temporarily blocks Florida welfare drug testing law

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida [official website] on Monday temporarily blocked [order, PDF] a new Florida law [Executive Order 11-58, PDF] that had required welfare applicants to pass a drug test before receiving benefits. Judge Mary Scriven said that the law might violate applicants' Fourth Amendment [text] protection against unreasonable search and seizures. She concluded:

[I]mposing an injunction would serve the public interest by protecting [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] TANF applicants from the harm caused by infringement of their constitutional right, a right here that once infringed cannot be restored. "Perhaps no greater public interest exists than protecting a citizen's rights under the constitution." Accordingly, the Court concludes that preliminarily enjoining what appears likely to be deemed to be an unconstitutional intrusion on the Fourth Amendment rights of TANF applicants serves the public interest and outweighs whatever minimal harm a preliminary injunction might visit upon the State.
A spokesperson for the state of Florida said that there will be an appeal of the ruling. More than 7,000 welfare applicants have passed the test since it began in July, with 32 people failing it. About 1,600 people have refused to take the test. Some policy experts argue [JURIST comment] that the drug testing policy is harmful for needy families.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute [advocacy websites] filed the challenge [JURIST report] in September. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Luis Lebron, a 35-year-old Orlando resident, Navy veteran and full-time University of Central Florida student who applied for Temporary Cash Assistance to help support his four-year-old son. Lebron meets all the criteria for aid but refused to submit to the drug test on the principle that it is an infringement of his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. The complaint notes that the US Supreme Court has held that suspicionless drug testing by the government is an unreasonable search that violates the Fourth Amendment, the only exceptions being for substantial public safety concerns and students in the public school system.

 

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