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A federal judge in Florida has issued a temporary injunction blocking the enforcement of the state's welfare drug test law. The law mandates drug testing for those seeking state welfare. Persons who test positive are denied benefits.
Plaintiff, a Navy veteran and university student, applied for aid so that he can care for his daughter. He refused to take the test, and was subsequently denied benefits. He then sued on Fourth Amendment grounds.
The Supreme Court has long held that warrantless drug tests are a substantial invasion of privacy under the Fourth Amendment. Florida's welfare drug tests are even more invasive, according to the judge's order.
Results are shared with medical reviewers and counselors with the Florida Abuse Hotline. They are also kept in database accessible by law enforcement.
Despite this, Florida still argued that the Department of Children & Families does not need a warrant to conduct welfare drug tests. It claimed that such tests are valid under the Fourth Amendment's "special needs" exception.
That exception allows law enforcement to conduct warrantless searches when "the warrant and probable-cause requirement [are] impracticable."
The state argued that it needs to ensure that public funds are not used to purchase drugs. This is not sufficient to override individual privacy rights.
The judge pointed to the lack of evidence that drug use is a huge problem for Florida welfare recipients. She also noted that the state's theory would allow it to compel drug tests for recipients of all state benefits.
A full hearing has yet to be had on the issue, but this case could possibly have widespread effects. A number of states have sought to impose welfare drug tests in recent years, but their legality has always been at issue.