The Supreme Court of the United States today rejected Governor Rick Scott's appeal of a lower court ruling that declared his executive order to drug test state employees unconstitutional. The move was hailed by organized labor, who along with their allies went to court immediately after Scott surprised state employees nearly three years ago by issuing an executive order for mandatory drug testing of all prospective hires, and random drug testing of current employees, in agencies whose directors he appoints.
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court has agreed with what we have known all along: the question of whether the state has the power to compel all employees to submit to suspicionless searches without a good reason is settled and the answer is ‘no,’” stated ACLU of Florida staff attorney Shalini Goel Agarwal, lead ACLU counsel in the case. “Every court that has heard Gov. Scott’s argument agrees: without a threat to public safety or suspicion of drug use, people can’t be required to sacrifice their constitutional rights in order to serve the people of Florida.”
The high Court's decision ends the legal odyssey that began after the ACLU filed suit on behalf of the AFSCME (AFSCME) Council 79, which at the time represented approximately 40,000 public workers who were subject to the suspicionless drug-testing program under the order.According to the ACLU, approximately 77 percent of state workers would have been subjected to the governor's request.
In April 2012, a district court enjoined the Executive Order, declaring that requiring state employees to submit to invasive searches without suspicion of drug use violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches. The state appealed that decision, and a year ago the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rejected the state’s argument that the government has the authority to require all employees submit to the invasive and humiliating drug tests as a condition of employment.
“The public servants who would be impacted by this Executive Order have been working under a needless cloud of suspicion, treating them like suspected criminals ever since the Executive Order was signed by Gov. Scott,” stated AFSCME Florida Council 79 president Jeanette D. Wynn. “Today’s decision by the court lifts that cloud once and for all and says that people don’t lose their constitutional rights simply because they work for the public."
The ACLU of Florida has filed a public records request to determine how much money the state has spent fighting court decisions that have declared the state’s drug testing programs unconstitutional in both the AFSCME case and in a separate case challenging a 2011 law that also subjected applicants for the state’s welfare program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), to suspicionless drug testing.
Scott has been on the losing end of court rulings on that case as well. On December 31 of last year, a U.S. District Court struck down that law
, saying "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."
But Scott has appealed that decision as well.
In a statement this afternoon the Governor “State employees should have the right to work in a safe and drug free environment, just like in any other business. The merits of this case are still being deliberated in the U.S. Southern District Court, and we will continue to fight to make sure all state employees, who are paid by taxpayer funds, can work in a safe, drug free workplace.”