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Federal court rejects Florida's welfare drug-testing appeal

A federal appeals court upheld the temporary ban on Florida’s drug-testing for welfare recipients Tuesday, saying that a lawsuit against the state had a good chance of succeeding.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta sided with a lower court decision, stating that Florida failed to show that the drug testing plan was so critical that the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches by the government, should be suspended.

The decision—which did not weigh in on the ultimate constitutionality question—is the latest development in Gov. Rick Scott's controversial drug testing push. In 2011,Scott and the Florida Legislature instituted a program for drug-testing all recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Luis Lebron, a single-father and TANF applicant who refused to take the test on constitutional grounds, filed a lawsuit with help from the American Civil Liberties Union.

In authoring the court’s opinion, Circuit Judge Rosemary Barkett said that Florida had not proven that its drug-testing program serves a “special” or “immediate” need, or that it even protected children in families with substance abuse.

“There is nothing so special or immediate about the government’s interest in ensuring that TANF recipients are drug free so as to warrant suspension of the Fourth Amendment,” Barkett wrote. “The only known and shared characteristic of the individuals who would be subjected to Florida’s mandatory drug testing program is that they are financially needy families with children.” 

Scott vowed to appeal the decision and take his fight to the Supreme Court.

“The court’s ruling today is disturbing," he said in a statement. "Welfare is 100 percent about helping children. Welfare is taxpayer money to help people looking for jobs who have children. Drug use by anyone with children looking for a job is totally destructive. This is fundamentally about protecting the wellbeing of Florida families. We will protect children and families in our state, and this decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court.”

The court relied on a similar case in Georgia, which struck down the state’s program for requiring all political candidates to take drug tests. That case found that Georgia did not show that there was a drug problem among elected officials, and the law was mostly “symbolic.”

In the rejecting Florida’s appeal to the lower court's preliminary injunction, Barkett took a similar position. 

“The State has presented no evidence that simply because an applicant for TANF benefits is having financial problems, he is also drug addicted or prone to fraudulent and neglectful behavior,” she wrote.

The ACLU's associate legal director Maria Kayanan said the ruling was a vindication for struggling families who apply for government assistance.

"The state of Florida can’t treat an entire segment of our community like suspected criminals simply because they are poor and are trying to get temporary assistance from the government to support their families,” said Kayanan, who was lead counsel on the case.

Florida also passed a law last year requiring drug testing for all state workers, but that issue is also tangled in constitutional challenges and litigation. 

@ToluseO

Comments

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Chris

As a former heroin addict I can tell you that the people fighting this are absolutely full of it. I know the type of people who use hard drugs very well unfortunately, and although I agree that welfare and TANF assistance should be used for the children of needy families, I can GUARANTEE that those people using drugs are NOT using this money on their children. It goes straight into the pockets of dealers and criminals, period. These people have NO intention of getting a job, and often have children just for the money they'll get from the government to support their habits. I lived amongst these people for many years, and they feel entitled to government assistance, and therefore are fighting this under the guise of violating the 4th amendment. EVERYONE who receives government assistance should have to take and pass a drug test to get their money. I don't see how an intelligent, logical person could think or say otherwise without an ulterior motive.

Roger

We are going to fall into oblivion if the sequester cuts go into effect, but saving billions of taxpayer dollars is not critical? As is often said help for those who are actually in need is seldom argued against, but shouldn't we force thoes who are abusing the system to fend for themselves? The left wants gun control because of the few, which will only punish the many.
Lets have a consistent application of lefty principles. They are wrong, but they should be consistent.

Sean Johnson

Both comments above me are straw men. Nobody is saying that drug users wouldn't spend TANF money on welfare or that we don't want "those who are abusing the system to fend for themselves." The argument is that no one should be required to submit to a drug test by the government without reasonable cause. Being poor isn't reason enough to suspect drug use.

Charlene

I totally applaud Chris on his comment. Every good paying job you apply requires you to have a drug test so they are not saying only the "poor" I am really upset that I a single mother of 5 who didn't have child support for 3yrs. and had to use food stamps, until I found a job and got back on my feet. I was embarrassed to be on food stamps and felt bad not because of the assistance but because of the people who I saw myself like Chris above not using their food stamps for the children. Alcoholics to heroin addicts using it to get drugs!! There is a liquor store who will let people use the food stamps to buy cigaretts and alcohol! The gov. Does have another agenda because this makes no since. If they REALLY CARED about the children they would feed the children or have a better way of regulating it!

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