A federal judge on Tuesday struck down a Florida law requiring applicants for welfare benefits to undergo mandatory drug testing, ruling it was unconstitutional and shouldn’t be enforced.
U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven’s 30-page order made permanent an earlier, temporary ban on the law by the judge.
Gov. Rick Scott had backed the drug testing of prospective welfare recipients, arguing it helped protect taxpayers and families. He said in a statement Tuesday that his administration would appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
“Any illegal drug use in a family is harmful and even abusive to a child,” Scott said. “We should have a zero tolerance policy for illegal drug use in families, especially those families who struggle to make ends meet and need welfare assistance to provide for their children.”
Opponents of the law had argued it was an unconstitutional search and seizure. The judge agreed, writing that there was no pervasive drug problem among applicants for the welfare program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
The judge said she could find “no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied.”
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, called the order “a nice New Year’s present.” The ACLU helped challenge the 2011 law on behalf of Luis Lebron, a Navy veteran and single father from Orlando who refused to submit to a drug test for TANF benefits.
The judge’s decision may give pause to a handful of other states that have either passed or are in the process of passing similar laws before they are enacted, including Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, Simon said.
“The court is sending a message to politicians that they’re not going to be allowed to treat poor people as if they have no constitutional rights,” Simon said.