Rick Scott Won't Get to Drug Test Poor People After All: Federal Court Rejects Welfare Testing

Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Miami and help keep the future of New Times free.

Rick Scott's obsessive quest to drug test every man, woman and child in the state of Florida appears to be at an end.

Seven months after the Supreme Court declined to hear his administration's argument for drug testing state employees, the governor lost again yesterday when a federal appeals resoundingly rejected his attempts to drug test welfare applicants.

"We have no reason to think impoverished individuals are necessarily and inherently prone to drug use, or, for that matter, are more prone to drug use than the general population," the court ruled.

The ruling spelled out other seemingly self-evident truths for Scott, such as:

1) poor people don't forego privacy rights because they are poor, and

2) unnecessary piss tests are a violation of that right to privacy

No, really. Judge Stanley Marcus felt the need to point this out in a scathing 54-page decision.

"Of course, citizens do not abandon all hope of privacy by applying for government assistance," he wrote. "By virtue of poverty, TANF applicants are not stripped of their legitimate expectations of privacy -- they are not employees in dangerous vocations or students subject to the parens patriae power of the state. And 'the collection and testing of urine intrudes upon expectations of privacy that society has long recognized as reasonable.'"

TANF stands for "Temporary Assistance for Needy Families," a program commonly referred to as welfare.

Marcus also excoriated the testimony of three witnesses provided by Scott's administration.

Michael Carroll, a DCF employee, claimed he had "firsthand observed a strong correlation between drug use and employment, as well as drug use and poverty, and had observed drug use as a substantial barrier to employment for the population likely to participate in TANF. Carroll added that he had personally observed hundreds of TANF applicants who appeared to be under the influence of drugs, and that TANF recipients are more likely to use drugs than recipients of other government benefits."

"The district court found that the evidence submitted by the State from [the three witnesses] was inadmissible and could not have been reduced to admissible evidence at trial," Marcus wrote. The witnesses "were not qualified as experts, and their opinions were offered without support from any relevant studies or empirical data."

"In the final analysis, the warrantless, suspicionless urinalysis drug testing of every Florida TANF applicant as a mandatory requirement for receiving Temporary Cash Assistance offends the Fourth Amendment," Marcus wrote near the end of his ruling.

"We respect the State's overarching and laudable desire to promote work, protect families, and conserve resources. But, above all else, we must enforce the Constitution and the limits it places on government," he concluded. "If we are to give meaning to the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on blanket government searches, we must -- and we do -- hold that § 414.0652 crosses the constitutional line."

Send your tips to the author, or follow him on Twitter @MikeMillerMiami.

Follow Miami New Times on Facebook and Twitter @MiamiNewTimes.

Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.