By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
The U.S. Supreme Court announced this week that it won’t hear Gov. Rick Scott’s appeal of a lower court’s ruling striking down the effort to make all state employees undergo suspicionless drug testing.
The effort was one of Scott’s campaign promises, which included requiring drug testing for recipients of temporary financial assistance. A federal court halted that move, as well.
There was some expectation that the U.S. Supreme Court would hear Scott’s appeal of a lower court ruling that determined the state’s effort to drug test all 85,000 state employees was unconstitutional. However, the governor’s request was rejected.
The decision was a victory for labor unions and their legal advocates.
The court’s action leaves in place an 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Scott’s executive order making consent to suspicionless drug testing a condition of employment was unconstitutional. A judge said it violated workers’ Fourth Amendment rights, though allowed for exceptions in “certain safety-sensitive categories of employees — for instance, employees who operate or pilot large vehicles, or law enforcement officers who carry firearms in the course of duty.”
… Scott’s executive order in 2011 required random drug testing of current state employees as well as a pre-testing of prospective job applicants in agencies under his control.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which has been fighting all of Scott’s drug testing efforts, called the Supreme Court’s decision “the latest in a series of victories for privacy rights in the state’s costly legal battles in defense of unconstitutional drug testing programs under the Scott administration,” according to a statement released Monday.
…The Supreme Court declined to grant Gov. Scott’s petition for writ of certiorari, leaving in place an appeals court decision that the state cannot subject all employees to mandatory urinalysis. Today’s decision by the nation’s highest court effectively ends the appeals process for the Governor’s Executive Order for across-the-board testing.
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court has agreed with what we have known all along: the question of whether the state has the power to compel all employees to submit to suspicionless searches without a good reason is settled and the answer is ‘no,’” stated ACLU of Florida staff attorney Shalini Goel Agarwal, lead ACLU counsel in the case. “Every court that has heard Gov. Scott’s argument agrees: without a threat to public safety or suspicion of drug use, people can’t be required to sacrifice their constitutional rights in order to serve the people of Florida.”
The ACLU also said that although this particular appeals process has ended, “the litigation costs in the case continue to mount at the district court level as the state continues to contend that even if it cannot test all employees, the vast majority of the jobs that would have been subject to the policy should still be tested.”
According to the group’s statement:
The ACLU of Florida has filed a public records request to determine how much money the state has spent fighting court decisions that have declared the state’s drug testing programs unconstitutional in both the AFSCME case and in a separate case challenging a 2011 law that also subjected applicants for the state’s welfare program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), to suspicionless drug testing.
“Despite his claim that he is a small-government conservative seeking to limit the power of government in our lives and government expenses, Gov. Scott has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars defending policies that require people to submit their bodily fluids for government inspection,” stated ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon. “The courts have spoken time and again on this issue: and it’s time for Gov. Scott to cut his losses and face the facts: the government can’t subject entire classes of people to urinalysis without reasonable suspicion or a genuine threat to public safety.”
The state employee labor union also applauded the Supreme Court’s decision. According to The Florida Current, Jeanette Wynn, the state president of AFSCME, said “we hope the governor finally reads the writing on the wall and stops demonizing the tens of thousands of public workers who, under his executive order, would be required to sacrifice their right to be free from suspicionless invasive searchers as a condition of their employment.”