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Eleventh Circuit Hears Florida Welfare Drug Testing Arguments

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on November 02, 2012 4:01 PM

Last year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a law requiring adults applying for welfare assistance to undergo drug screening. At the time, he said it was "unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction," CNN reports. Florida was the first state to pass such a requirement.

A year later, data released by the state showed that the law resulted in no direct savings, snared few drug users and had no effect on the number of applications, according to The New York Times.

Not that it matters; the requirement was enjoined last year.

This week, a three-judge panel from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals considered whether a preliminary injunction against drug test requirement should remain in place.

The Florida law requires welfare applicants to pay for and pass a drug test to receive benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. A federal judge enjoined the drug testing requirement last October, finding that it might violate the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, The Associated Press reports.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is challenging the law, claims that drug testing is an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment, and makes unfair and baseless assumptions that welfare recipients use drugs at a higher rate than the rest of the population. The state maintains that drug tests do not amount to unreasonable searches because welfare applicants consent to the test by applying for the program.

The appellate court's ruling on the injunction will be based on the ACLU's likelihood of success in its constitutional claim, and the likelihood of irreparable harm from allowing the state to continue enforcing the testing law. Regardless of the Eleventh Circuit's ruling on the preliminary injunction, this case will be in court for a long time to come. The district court -- and, no doubt, the appellate court -- still have to decide the ultimate issue: Whether or not drug testing for welfare applicants violates the Fourth Amendment.

For now, it looks like the ACLU is prepared to remain a fixture on Florida federal court dockets: Hours after arguing against the Florida welfare drug screening requirement, the ACLU of Florida announced a separate federal lawsuit in Pensacola, Fla. on behalf of a city employee fired for refusing to take a random drug test. The lawsuit challenges a city ordinance requiring city employees to submit to random urine tests in order to keep their jobs, Sunshine State News reports.

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