Judge Strikes Down Florida's Drug Tests for Welfare Law

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 1 2014 12:55 PM

Judge Strikes Down Florida's Drug Tests for Welfare Law

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Florida leads the country in amusement parks and violations of the 4th Amendment.

Photo by Matt Stroshane/Disney Parks via Getty Images

Judge Mary S. Scriven, a federal judge of the Middle District of Florida, struck down a Florida law requiring a drug test of all welfare recipients, holding that the measure violated the 4th Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable searches. From the New York Times:

“The court finds there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied,” [Judge Scriven] wrote. The ruling made permanent an earlier, temporary ban by the judge.
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The law, signed in 2011 by Republican Governor Rick Scott, stood on shaky legal ground from the start: In 2003, a federal court struck down a nearly identical Michigan law, which was never succesfully appealed. However, since 2009, about a dozen states—led by conservative legislatures—have passed similar measures, in the dubious justification of protecting children. 

It's worth noting that, in addition to being unconstitutional, these laws simply do not work. Not many welfare recipients, it would seem, actually do drugs: After a year, Florida had found 108 drug users—out of 4,086 people tested. The cost to the state came to nearly $46,000, an exponentially higher amount of money than Florida saved from the program. Utah's drug test for welfare law, touted by conservatives as a money-saving measure, cost the state about $31,000—and caught a grand total of 12 users. Even if a higher court finds Florida's law constitutional, the state might consider scrapping it simply to stop wasting so much money.

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.