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Federal Judge Strikes Down Florida Law Requiring Drug Tests For Welfare Benefits

constitution-preamble-gavel

Less than six months after taking office in 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott helped pushed through a bill requiring all people receiving public assistance from the state to undergo drug testing in order to continue receiving welfare assistance from the state. This is a program that many Republicans around the country had talked about before, but Florida appears to have been the first state to actually pass such a program into law. Not surprisingly, lawsuits were immediately filed against the law seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional in that it violated the Fourth Amendment and other rights under the U.S. Constitution. As I noted at the time, the argument that the Florida law was unconstitutional was pretty strong, based upon previous similar but identical Supreme Court precedent and rulings from other Federal Courts around the country. In addition to the Constitutional arguments, there was also no empirical evidence to support the idea that mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients would accomplish anything. For one thing, studies predating the Florida law show that  welfare recipients are no more likely to be drug users than the general population as a whole. This was seemingly substantiated by the first round of testing in July 2011, which showed that  a mere 2% of those receiving assistance from the State Of Florida tested positive, a number roughly comparable to the population as a whole. Additionally, that first round of testing revealed that the savings to the state from cutting this group of people from the welfare rolls, while also compensating all those who tested positive for the cost of the test that they had to pay out of pocked, made the savings from the program essentially non-existent. 

Eventually, a Federal Judge placed a temporary injunction against the program, which a Federal Court of Appeals upheld. Now, a Federal Judge has declared the entire program unconstitutional and permanently enjoined its enforcement:

KEY WEST, Fla. — A federal judge on Tuesday struck down as unconstitutional a Florida law that required welfare applicants to undergo mandatory drug testing, setting the stage for a legal battle that could affect similar efforts nationwide.

Judge Mary S. Scriven of the United States District Court in Orlando held that the testing requirement, the signature legislation of Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who campaigned on the issue, violated the protection against unreasonable searches.

“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,” she wrote. The ruling made permanent an earlier, temporary ban by the judge.

Mr. Scott, who had argued that the drug testing was necessary to protect children and ensure that tax money was not going to illegal drugs, said that the state would appeal the ruling.

“Any illegal drug use in a family is harmful and even abusive to a child,” he said in a statement. “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.”

Florida passed the measure in 2011, and the case was being closely watched by several other states, including Georgia, which passed similar legislation in 2013 but found it dogged by legal challenges. State data in Florida also showed that the measure produced few results. Only 108 out of 4,086 people tested — 2.6 percent — were found to have been using narcotics. State records showed that the requirement cost more money to carry out than it saved.

But as the country emerged from the recession, numerous states, powered by the strength of Republicans in many legislatures, sought to make welfare or unemployment checks contingent on drug testing. That is despite a 2003 federal court ruling in Michigan that struck down drug testing for welfare recipients because it amounted to an illegal search.

“In Michigan a number of years ago there was a court decision that had a chilling effect on these kinds of proposals,” said Grant Smith, policy manager of the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization that advocates more liberal drug-use laws. “This new ruling should give pause. We have seen a number of proposals continue to be put forward across the country, but the writing is on the wall that requiring people to submit to drug testing for no reason other than being poor and in need of assistance is not going to pass constitutional muster. It’s not fair, it’s not cost effective, and it’s unreasonable.”

Arizona passed a drug-testing requirement in 2009. Nine more states, including Florida, have passed such laws since 2011. At least 29 states debated such measures in 2013, but only two of the bills passed.

In Georgia, the law’s rollout was delayed pending the outcome of the Florida legal challenge. In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, vetoed such a law. Although the Republican-controlled legislature overrode the veto, the governor has continued to object to the requirement, which he called costly and ineffective.

The Judge presiding over this case, District Court Judge Mary Scriven, a George W. Bush appointee who has been on the bench since 2008, relied primarily, as expected on the Fourth Amendment in her ruling:

The legal question presented before this Court is whether Section 414.0652, Florida Statutes, which requires all applicants for TANF benefits to submit to suspicionless drug testing, is constitutional under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Defendant is correct that the concurring opinion in Lebron remarked that the Eleventh Circuit had not resolved the ultimate question of the constitutionality of the drug testing scheme.4 Even so, the Eleventh Circuit’s legal rulings appear to have foreclosed all but one of the bases on which the State seeks to preserve the constitutionality of the law. That remaining issue, whether the prevalence of drug use alone within a segment of the population receiving state funding can support mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of that entire population, was called into substantial question,5 and the record now before this Court fails to support the State’s asserted -authority. Thus, for the reasons set forth below, and with the benefit of the rulings an analysis of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court declares the statute facially unconstitutional and permanently enjoins the State from reinstating and enforcing the law.

In the specific context of government-mandated drug testing programs, the Supreme Court has limited its exemptions of such programs from the Fourth Amendment’s warrant and probable cause requirements only where the asserted need for suspicionless searches fits within the “closely guarded category” of constitutionally permissible justifications. See Lebron, 710 F.3d at 1207 (citing Chandler, 520 U.S. at 309). “To fall within this closely guarded category, the Court has made clear that its precedents establish that the proffered special need for drug testing must be substantial.” Id. (citing Chandler 520 U.S. at 318). As the Eleventh Circuit explained, ”the [Supreme] Court has recognized [only] two concerns that present such exceptional circumstances which are sufficiently substantial to qualify as special needs meriting an exemption to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant and probable cause requirement: the specific risk to public safety by employees engaged in inherently dangerous jobs, and the protection of children entrusted to the public school system’s care and tutelage.” Id.

With regard to the need of ensuring public safety, the Supreme Court in Skinner and Von Rabb recognized sufficiently substantial “special needs” where railroad employees were engaged in safety-sensitive tasks, Skinner, 489 U.S. at 620, and where the sensitive positions of certain United States Customs employees presented-extraordinary safety and national security hazards, Von Raab, 489 U.S. at 666. In Skinner, for instance, the Federal Railroad Administration found that alcohol and drug abuse by railroad employees posed a serious threat to safety after evidence showed that alcohol or drug abuse was a factor in several accidents that resulted in numerous fatalities, other injuries, and property damage. 489 U.S. at 607. In response, the involved in train accidents to take blood and urine tests. Id. at 606. The safety sensitive duties tasked to the railroad employees supported the Court’s determination that the government had met the required showing of a special need, to wit, ensuring the safety of the traveling public and of the employees themselves. This need, the Court concluded, justified a policy prohibiting the use of alcohol or drugs while on duty. Id. at 620-21. The Supreme Court also explained that the delay required to procure a warrant to determine whether a violation of the prohibition had been committed could result in the destruction of valuable evidence of drug and alcohol use, and adherence to normal probable cause and warrant requirements would frustrate the compelling government interest in railway safety. Id. at 623.
Similarly, in Von Rabb, the Supreme Court upheld a United States Customs Service policy that made drug testing a condition of working in positions directly involving drug interdiction or requiring the employee to carry a firearm. 489 U.S. at 660–61. The Court explained that the Customs Service, “in performing its almost unique mission,” id. at 674, was our “first line of defense . . . against the veritable national crisis in law enforcement caused by smuggling of illicit narcotics.” Id. at 668 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

Judge Scriven goes on to examine the evidence presented by the state in an effort to justify the warrantless searches that the law permits, which consists primarily of the test results I discussed above, along with with additional studies which, somewhat vaguely, purport to argue that welfare recipients are more likely to be drug users without actually showing any evidence of the same and, of course, the claim that they’re doing all of this “for the children.” She also relies heavily on the 1997 Supreme Court  case called Chandler v. Miller. This was a suit filed against a Georgia law which required evidence candidate running for selected state offices to take and pass a drug test before being allowed a place on the ballot. In the Court’s opinion in that case, which struck down the law  Justice Ginsburg, noting that the Georgia drug testing requirement clearly implicated Fourth Amendment concerns despite the fact that it was not a criminal statute and didn’t necessarily impose a criminal penalty, said the following:

What is left, after close review of Georgia’s scheme, is the image the State seeks to project. By requiring candidates for public office to submit to drug testing, Georgia displays its commitment to the struggle against drug abuse. The suspicionless tests, according to respondents, signify that candidates, if elected, will be fit to serve their constituents free from the influence of illegal drugs. But Georgia asserts no evidence of a drug problem among the State’s elected officials, those officials typically do not perform high risk, safety sensitive tasks, and the required certification immediately aids no interdiction effort. The need revealed, in short, is symbolic, not “special,” as that term draws meaning from our case law.

(…)

However well meant, the candidate drug test Georgia has devised diminishes personal privacy for a symbol’s sake. The Fourth Amendment shields society against that state action.

Judge Scriven’s conclusion is quite similar:

In sum, the State has failed to show that the TANF program or its recipients in this case fall within the “closely guarded category” for which or for whom the Supreme Court has sanctioned mandatory, suspicionless drug testing. The State has also failed to show that the statute at issue in this case is otherwise necessary to alleviate the concerns raised by the State. Accordingly, the Court’s analysis as to the constitutionality of the statute should end here

Florida will no doubt appeal this case, but Judge Scriven’s opinion appears to me to be pretty airtight, as does the controlling precedent. Absent some kind of special circumstance, the state simply cannot require someone to undergo a warrantless drug test regardless of whether or not there is a reasonable basis to believe that there might be a reason to suspect that the individual involved has been or continues to be an habitual drug user. Typically, those circumstances have involved positions that impact public safety, such as the railway workers in Skinner, or airline pilots or persons in other similar positions where have the position to impact public safety. Quite obviously, that isn’t true of welfare recipients. Instead, Florida picked this group out because they are on public assistance, because that in and of itself makes them unpopular with members of the general public, because they have little political power, and most probably to discourage people from applying for public assistance in the first place. None of those are legitimate reasons to violate the rights of people on welfare. The Court got it right here, and I expect this result to withstand appeal in the long run.

Here’s the opinion:

Lebron v. Wilkins Opinion by Doug Mataconis

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Rafer Janders says:

    If I were a Florida state legislator, I would have introduced a bill requiring a drug test for any parent who sent their child to a public school, or for the officer of any corporation which received a tax credit from the state….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  2. HarvardLaw92 says:

    While I agree that the concept itself is inordinately stupid, I’m not as convinced by the legal arguments.

    The state obviously isn’t predicating the ability to exercise a constitutional right on the testing (nobody has a constitutional right to welfare assistance), and the folks concerned voluntarily choose to seek out the payments in awareness of the testing requirement. Additionally, AFAICT they were made financially whole by the state in the event of a negative test.

    How do we square this ruling with Vernonia School District v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646 (1995), and Board of Education v. Earls, 536 U.S. 822 (2002)?

    So we are left with the state causing no actionable harm, and citizens able to easily avoid the testing – by simply choosing not to apply for the benefits in the first place. I agree that it is morally and ethically objectionable, but calling it unconstitutional is a stretch.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 14

  3. rudderpedals says:

    Bad cases make bad law — who isn’t tired of hearing that?

    This is a bad case because (amongst other reasons) the concealed but actual impetus for testing was the desire to funnel the business of testing the pee and blood to one of Mrs. Gov.Rick Scott’s investments. The drive fizzled when the conflict was exposed.

    (Minor note on Judge Scriven: She was a fed magistrate for a number of years in the same division before she was elevated to the bench as a real Article III judge and has more experience than the 08 appointment date indicates)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  4. Stonetools says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    So we are left with the state causing no actionable harm, and citizens able to easily avoid the testing – by simply choosing not to apply for the benefits in the first place. I agree that it is morally and ethically objectionable, but calling it unconstitutional is a stretch.

    So they can avoid testing by essentially agreeing to go hungry and homeless? Sounds a bit Dickensian to me, mate. I’m not sure that’s a choice at all- certainly not an easy one.
    Hope the decision holds up on appeal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  5. anjin-san says:

    Isn’t shitting on poor people a sign of our national greatness?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 1

  6. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Stonetools:

    And I agree. Morally and ethically, it’s repugnant. Waging wars on poor people instead of poverty nauseates me.

    I’m just speaking to the constitutional issues involved in a narrow, legal context. I support policy that helps people not be hungry or homeless, but the constitution doesn’t guarantee that anybody has a right not to be either of those. It’s a continuation of my major pet peeve – namely that “unconstitutional” doesn’t equate to “everything we dislike”, so people need to stop throwing the word around as a catch-all for things that disturb or offend them.

    Sometimes I’m too much of a lawyer for my own good, I suppose, but I have to view the constitution through that lens.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  7. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Consider the following questions:

    1) Does the state have a constitutionally legitimate interest in mitigating drug use? Note that I didn’t say that the best way to accomplish that goal is the punitive route – I simply asked if the state’s interest in mitigating drug use is legitimate in and of itself.

    2) More importantly, does the state have a constitutionally legitimate interest in ensuring that private drug use isn’t supported or subsidized by the fisc?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  8. Rick DeMent says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    But how does the decision stand up through the lens of selective search? I mean no one has a “right” to government distributed benefits per se yet they want to single out one set of recipients for a search and not others? Why this group and not others? If there was some kind of public benefit that testing this group produces that testing other groups (CEO’s of subsidy receiving companies) do not I might be more in agreement. But it clearly doesn’t. Smacks of unequal treatment no? I mean if all recipients of government benefits were tested then the notion would have the benefit of consistency. Are the poor more inclined to use drugs then subsidized flood insurance recipients?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  9. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Rick DeMent:

    And I wouldn’t necessarily disagree, except to stipulate that this is not an imposed search. It is a search with voluntary consent (to some degree obtained under duress.) That said, no due process argument was advanced, either by the state or by the petitioners.

    We have a reality where SCOTUS has upheld suspicionless drug testing of high school athletes. They have upheld suspicionless drug testing of applicants for employment. They have upheld suspicionless testing of customs officers and railroad employees and a host of other groupings.

    What makes this case any different from a constitutional perspective? That’s all that I am asking.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  10. stonetools says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    OK. I think we can agree that the solution is political. We need to stop electing politicians who think that sh!tting on the poor is good policy-which is pretty much Republican politicians, although some Democrats do this too.
    What’s depressing is that every political analyst I’ve read thinks we are going to be electing more of the sociopaths in 2014,although many also seem to think that Governor Rick Scott is on his way out in Florida. Small steps, I guess.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  11. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @stonetools:

    Something to consider: would this program be more palatable if, instead of terminating their eligibility for benefits in response to a positive drug test, we mandated that they participate in state funded drug treatment instead?

    I’m torn on the issue because I can see some degree of validity in ensuring that the fisc isn’t supporting private drug use, but I’m pretty certain that simply cutting people’s benefits off isn’t the right response.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  12. steve s says:

    Trey Radel voted for this law.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  13. grumpy realist says:

    @HarvardLaw92: How do you get around the “special reasons” requirement? That’s a pretty rock-solid piece of case law.

    Remember, we don’t carve out Fourth Amendment privileges from an overwhelming Big Brother. It’s the other way around. The government doesn’t get to poke its nose in with testing etc. unless it can show a damned good reason to do so.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  14. grumpy realist says:

    And also, the other classes you mention can be distinguished by voluntary association, loco parentis, or similar. People who are poor don’t chose to become poor the same way that school athletes choose to participate in sports.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  15. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @grumpy realist:

    How do I get around it? By going to a few concepts:

    1) That these people are voluntarily subjecting themselves to testing in exchange for a tangible benefit.

    2) that the state’s interest in ensuring that the fisc isn’t subsidizing private drug use is an acceptable rationale for abrogating equal protection. Poverty isn’t a suspect class, not does it meet the imposed test for the imposition of intermediate scrutiny, so I need only satisfy rational basis review. I think we can agree that the state asserting the desire to protect the fisc is rationally defensible.

    3) the fact that the legislature hasn’t chosen (or hasn’t chosen yet) to predicate the extension of public largess on a negative demonstration of drug use doesn’t mean that it can’t do so. It means that it hasn’t YET done so. The concept in play here is not one of “the state can never mandate suspicionless drug testing.” That one has been asked and answered at SCOTUS repeatedly – it can do so.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  16. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @grumpy realist:

    And also, the other classes you mention can be distinguished by voluntary association, loco parentis, or similar.

    Really? People don’t voluntarily choose to associate themselves with the group of people seeking welfare benefits? I’m pretty sure that the state doesn’t show up at their place of residence with a gun in one hand and an application for benefits in the other. People, instead, seek out the state in order to apply for them, and they do so voluntarily.

    People who are poor don’t chose to become poor the same way that school athletes choose to participate in sports.

    Eh, yes and no. They do choose to engage in self-destructive behaviors and make poor choices. Does that mean that I think that they deserve to be poor or that I believe that helping them with public money is wrong? No, not even remotely. That said, I don’t buy into the argument that everybody who is poor has no other choice but to remain poor. I accept that they have fewer options, and accordingly I support supporting them, but I’m not prepared to absolve them of all responsibility for their plight either.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

  17. Ben says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    2) that the state’s interest in ensuring that the fisc isn’t subsidizing private drug use is an acceptable rationale for abrogating equal protection. Poverty isn’t a suspect class, not does it meet the imposed test for the imposition of intermediate scrutiny, so I need only satisfy rational basis review. I think we can agree that the state asserting the desire to protect the fisc is rationally defensible.

    A suspect class isn’t required here. A government action that infringes on a “fundamental constitutional right” should be evaluated using strict scrutiny. The fundamental right not to be subjected to an unreasonable search or seizure.

    Now, you’re correct that there’s no constitutional right to receive welfare payments. However, the federal government created an entitlement to these benefits under TANF as long as the parents meet some basic work requirements. The states are given some latitude as to the implementation, but what they cannot do is fail to provide benefits to eligble families. And the states can’t condition receipt of those benefits on a forced search that infringes on the 4th Amendment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  18. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Ben:

    A government action that infringes on a “fundamental constitutional right” should be evaluated using strict scrutiny.

    “Godamit it ought to be” is not an argument, and that is not the standard. I realize that some think that it should be, but it isn’t. SCOTUS has defined fundamental rights as the right to vote, the right to privacy and the right to travel. Conditioning the obtaining of a benefit to which one is not constitutionally entitled to the ceding of privacy doesn’t fit, sorry.

    but what they cannot do is fail to provide benefits to eligble families.

    Um, no. States have wide latitude under TANF to deny benefits, most notably with regard to recipients failing to find or make an effort to find work. Additionally, TANF mandates that participating states must act to end the dependence of the needy on government benefits by promoting job preparation.

    Now, given the widespread use of drug testing as a condition of extending offers of private employment (I mean come on, even McDonalds drug tests …), how is the state acting to prevent people from being ineligible for employment by interceding with respect to their drug use legally problematic? Indeed, TANF almost mandates that states intercede.

    Again, I do not support cutting off their benefits. As I stated above, I would much prefer changing the law to mandate that they participate (in the event of a positive test) in state funded drug treatment programs as a condition of retaining their benefits.

    This is a question of policy, not one of constitutional law.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  19. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Ben:

    And the states can’t condition receipt of those benefits on a forced search that infringes on the 4th Amendment.

    Absent a rational basis for doing so. As I asked above, why are the state’s interests in mitigating drug use and protecting the fisc not sufficient?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  20. Tyrell says:

    @HarvardLaw92: So the government can require job applicants and employees (workers) to undergo drug testing. Yet this judge thinks that it is unconstitutional to require it of someone getting a check from the government, a so called “entitlement”. Something is wrong with this picture. It seems “entitlement” is really getting stretched now a days. And I suppose this “entitlement” would include people who break the law by entering the country illegally and then receiving all sorts of these “entitlements”. How can this be right?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 8

  21. michael reynolds says:

    The law was invalidated under the Constitution’s “Dick Move” provision, which as we all know forbids any government action carried out solely for the purpose of being an aszhole.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  22. Rafer Janders says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    They do choose to engage in self-destructive behaviors and make poor choices.

    Self-destructive behaviors and poor choices such as being born to poor parents or in bad neighborhoods, getting sick, getting in accidents, or being laid off?

    This should really go without saying, but most of the poor are poor because of luck and circumstances beyond their immediate control, not because of any “self-destructive behaviors.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  23. Todd says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    It’s a continuation of my major pet peeve – namely that “unconstitutional” doesn’t equate to “everything we dislike”, so people need to stop throwing the word around as a catch-all for things that disturb or offend them.

    Yes! That ^^^

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  24. anjin-san says:

    They do choose to engage in self-destructive behaviors and make poor choices.

    Recent studies indicate that the constant stress caused by poverty actually causes cognitive impairment, which helps to drive these poor decisions.

    When I was young, I made a long string of terrible decisions over a period of about 15 years. Train wreck decisions. Yet here I sit, in one of the two homes I own, with my net worth going up every quarter.

    Why? Well, my dad was a successful attorney. I grew up in a wealthy community. I had 8 years of expensive orthodontic work, so my teeth are nice and straight. I’m educated. I’m comfortable around wealth and power. I never wanted for a thing growing up. We traveled. I had lots of meals at expensive restaurants, and learned my way around high end stores early.

    Most of this was simply given to me by my parents, I did not have much to do with it. So, while I am a smart guy who works hard, much of my ability to create and exploit opportunities was handed to me. As I have gotten older, I am much more aware of what a gift I was given. Millions of people don’t have that, in fact, their upbringing and circumstances beyond their control harmed, not nurtured them.

    I have a friend who belongs to one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. He invited me to join him there for dinner recently. I just walked in, told the guy at the door I was meeting a member, and asked where the bar was. He did not question for a moment if I actually belonged there. I can do that sort of thing because my dad brought me up to be able to function at that level, not because I am somehow inherently special.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  25. wr says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “2) More importantly, does the state have a constitutionally legitimate interest in ensuring that private drug use isn’t supported or subsidized by the fisc?”

    Wouldn’t that be a stronger argument if state policy were to drug test all recipients of state money — so that contractors and farmers getting subsidies and legislators collecting paychecks were all tested?

    This law singles out one class of people for testing despite a complete lack of evidence of drug use by any of them, and ignores other classes of people who are also getting state money. So why is this not discriminatory?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  26. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Self-destructive behaviors and poor choices such as being born to poor parents or in bad neighborhoods, getting sick, getting in accidents, or being laid off?

    No, I was speaking more to the tendency to get pregnant at an early age out of wedlock, then repeat that cycle over and over again often with multiple partners that have no interest in contributing to the welfare of the child(ren) thus created. It not only locks women into a bad situation, it sentences kids to a bad situation as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  27. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @wr:

    Wouldn’t that be a stronger argument if state policy were to drug test all recipients of state money — so that contractors and farmers getting subsidies and legislators collecting paychecks were all tested?

    Yes, but again, that is a question of policy that needs to be taken up with the legislature.

    This law singles out one class of people for testing despite a complete lack of evidence of drug use by any of them, and ignores other classes of people who are also getting state money. So why is this not discriminatory?

    It is discriminatory The point is that it is constitutionally permissible discrimination, not that it is either advisable nor a good idea. I’m not necessarily saying that they should do it. I’m just saying that the constitution doesn’t, IMO, prevent them from doing it. People have a tendency to read that document as being far, far more broad than it is in practice, then get annoyed / offended when someone points out to then that it ain’t necessarily so.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  28. Rafer Janders says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    No, I was speaking more to the tendency to get pregnant at an early age out of wedlock, then repeat that cycle over and over again often with multiple partners that have no interest in contributing to the welfare of the child(ren) thus created.

    Oh, I thought you were speaking of the root causes of poverty in the US. Because factors such as globalization, job loss, being stuck in economic backwaters, and unequal educational funding, among several others, are far, far more to blame for that than anything like the convenient scapegoating above. My mistake.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  29. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    We’ll just have to disagree. I appear to have spouted heresy and offended the natives again.

    Allow me to change my testimony:

    Poor people are poor through no fault of their own, haven’t done anything or made any choice which tend to perpetuate the cycle of poverty in which they live, bear no responsibility for making any effort to change their situation, must unavoidably be taken care of and should be regarded with a paternalistic attitude.

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. It was my mistake.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  30. rudderpedals says:

    Just FYI, an unexceptional single person in Florida qualifies for about $18 of food stamps per month if he meets the means test. We’re not talking about strapping young bucks living high on the hog on a grudgingly given 60 cents a day. We’re also not talking about the elderly, the unfortunate and the disabled who are far from making bank on 60 cents a day.

    The people who get more are representative payees receiving it for their kids. Maybe it’s better in places other than Florida.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. anjin-san says:

    No, I was speaking more to the tendency to get pregnant at an early age out of wedlock, then repeat that cycle over and over again often with multiple partners that have no interest in contributing to the welfare of the child(ren) thus created. It not only locks women into a bad situation, it sentences kids to a bad situation as well

    The women who do this are probably the daughters of mothers who did the exact same things. People tend to mirror what they saw their parents do. I can’t think of any women who I grew up with that became welfare mothers of children from multiple fathers out of wedlock. The girls I grew up with had mothers that taught them how to marry successful men or become successful themselves.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  32. michael reynolds says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    You’re a very smart guy, but you don’t understand poverty and what it does to people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  33. Rick Almeida says:

    @Tyrell:

    Welfare programs like food stamps or TANF are not “entitlements” in any sense of the word. They are means-tested programs, which means there are eligibility requirements. Social Security and Medicare are entitlements.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  34. Jack says:

    welfare recipients are no more likely to be drug users than the general population as a whole.

    Drivers are no more likely to be drug users than the general population as a whole, yet SCOTUS has authorized DUI checkpoints. “The U.S. Supreme Court has held that these stops, although not based on any particular evidence about the driver, are legal because the need to prevent drunken-driving accidents outweighs the minimal intrusion to sober drivers.” Driving is a privilege as is welfare.

    Now cities and states (CA) are extending the scope of DUI checkpoints to illegal drugs. Mind you, the Supreme Court has ruled that random checkpoints for the purpose of finding illegal drugs and general policing are unconstitutional. Meanwhile, in CO, you cannot refuse a blood test for THC (while driving) and keep your license. “Under state law, police who suspect you of driving high can forcibly draw your blood to test the levels of THC within it, if you refuse to let them stab their way into your bloodstream, they’ll suspend your license for even “longer” than if you were convicted of a DUI.” I don’t see this as a minimal intrusion.

    My employer, can ask for a urinalysis at any time, if I refuse I lose my job. Keep in mind, my employer is the US government. Why don’t 4th Amendment protections apply?

    All I’m asking from the courts is consistency. The drug war has gone on for far too long and politicians are simply looking for another way to jail people and keep those private prisons at 90% capacity.

    Either test everyone for everything, everyday or get the hell off our backs.

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  35. Rafer Janders says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I appear to have spouted heresy and offended the natives again.

    No, you just appear to have no idea what you’re talking about. We all talk from ignorance sometimes, it’s no big deal. Learn from your mistake and move on.

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  36. Todd says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I appear to have spouted heresy and offended the natives again.

    No, you just appear to have no idea what you’re talking about. We all talk from ignorance sometimes, it’s no big deal. Learn from your mistake and move on.

    He said he doesn’t agree with the drug testing law, thinks it’s wrong, but saying it’s clearly unconstitutional might not necessarily be a “slam dunk”.

    I don’t see anything unreasonable, or ignorant about that.

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  37. Todd says:

    There are a whole lot of “bad” laws out there, that aren’t “unconstitutional”

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  38. Rafer Janders says:

    @Todd:

    He said he doesn’t agree with the drug testing law, thinks it’s wrong, but saying it’s clearly unconstitutional might not necessarily be a “slam dunk”. I don’t see anything unreasonable, or ignorant about that.

    That wasn’t the part I took issue with (though I do disagree with it and think he’s wrong on the law). Rather, what raised my ire was when he claimed that poverty was the result of “self-destructive behaviors” and “poor choices” while ignoring the many larger societal/economic etc. structures that actually cause and perpetuate widespread poverty. That’s where his ignorance came in.

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  39. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    he claimed that poverty was the result of “self-destructive behaviors” and “poor choices” while ignoring the many larger societal/economic etc. structures that actually cause and perpetuate widespread poverty.

    Note: I did NOT assert that self-destructive behaviors and poor choices CAUSE poverty. I asserted, perhaps vaguely, that those factors help to keep people locked into poverty by further limiting what was already a limited set of options to begin with. There is a difference.

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  40. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I just take umbrage at the paternalistic attitude that these people can’t possibly change their situation, are helpless and therefore must be perpetually supported. It directly offends my sense of human worth.

    I don’t feel that way out of any sense of irritation at being one of the ones footing the bill for it. I take tikkun olam and tzedakah very seriously, and see contributing to that via taxation as being a mitzvah. I don’t begrudge it in the least. On the contrary, I feel gratitude at being able to afford to do it.

    What bothers me about it is the message that I believe it sends to these folks, namely that they are incapable and powerless to change their own situation. True charity helps a person better help themself. It doesn’t lead the person into a cycle of dependency and obliterate self-worth. It’s one thing to be poor. It’s entirely another to figuratively tell someone that they can’t ever be anything but poor, and that’s how I’m taking some of the commentary – as being very paternalistic. If I’m wrong about that, mea culpa.

    I have a young lawyer in my office. Puerto Rican, incredibly talented, born into unbelievable poverty to a single mother in the South Bronx. Despite those disadvantages, he managed to excel in public schools, win himself a scholarship to Duke and a full ride through Duke Law. He’s my touchstone on this issue.

    Can every poor person accomplish as much? No, but I think that telling kids like him, even indirectly, that they CAN’T is pernicious. We shouldn’t be doing that. We should be telling them, every day and in every way that we possibly have that they CAN. That’s where I am coming from on this one.

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  41. michael reynolds says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I come at this from an unusual perspective. So far in my life I’ve been everything from so poor I was living under a freeway overpass to wealthy enough to live on a hillside in Tiburon looking out over the bay. I’ve gone from not being able to scrape up 60 cents for a bus to driving a lovely Benz cabriolet. And I don’t mean I struggled when I was a teenager, I mean when I was a 30 year-old man.

    I’m not the only one who’s made that trip and nothing but respect for others like me who did it, but even when I was a stock clerk at Toys R Us or waiting tables or walking the streets all night, I knew I had a ticket out because I knew had a marketable talent. Most people in that place in life don’t have that. They have zero expectation of ever having any kind of comfort or ease. I mean, none. As a simple statistical question, are they wrong?

    Replay the story of your own life after subtracting any sense of hope. People with that perspective do things that look stupid and are stupid, unless you realize that they’re not ambitious and not optimistic and not at all hopeful. Then their actions still might not make sense, but they’re less inexplicable. You know what you do when you don’t have hope? You manufacture it with a little sperm and egg.

    I’m a very impatient guy and one whose usual prescription for people is that they should pull their heads out of their asses. But I also know how long it took me to to do it.

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  42. anjin-san says:

    the paternalistic attitude that these people can’t possibly change their situation

    That idea that if you just work hard and play by the rules you will get ahead? That belongs to a different century.

    I am around a group of poor people almost every day. It has radically altered the notions I had about the poor. For one thing, the people in this group are pretty industrious. They have a little recycling collection business, and they are out on their bikes with carts on the back, even in the nastiest weather. They don’t just sit on their butts watching TV, drinking cheap vodka, and cashing government checks while laughing at people who work.

    In this group, they all have issues that prevent them from being fully functioning members of society. Mental illness. Physical handicaps. Low intelligence. Tell you what though, they have been a hell of a lot kinder to my kid than folks on the right side of the tracks ever were.

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  43. wr says:

    @anjin-san: “That idea that if you just work hard and play by the rules you will get ahead? That belongs to a different century”

    No, it’s the same lie now as it always has been, and told for exactly the same reasons.

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  44. Matt says:

    @michael reynolds: Indeed I see this all over my neighborhood. People here have lost hope for any sort of a better future. I can’t blame them either as I personally have a hard time keeping hope up as I scrape by so I can only imagine what it would be like to be stuck here for generations. If I wasn’t working slowly through a degree in electrical engineering I’d probably be just like them.

    Losing hope means you lose passion and self respect. You stop caring about those around you including your belongings and housing. It’s really depressing.

    So I’m off to a 9 hour workday on my feet with a swollen ankle that I sprained god awfully the other week. Fortunately I can use crutches at this job. God help me if I didn’t get time off from my fast food job.

    Hoping I get accepted for a medical card to cover the costs associated with this injury.

    @anjin-san: There are a lot of good poor people out there. Some of them will give you the shirt off their back even if it’s their last shirt.

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  45. More and more laws should be made stop drug addiction which is a part of Drug Treatment Florida

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  46. That Guy says:

    I agree with Jack, I have to pass a drug test at anytime to keep my CDL license. This is what allows me to work to collect my check. My check, which in turn will provide their check. How is that fair to me? As for the tests costing more than the savings from denied benefits, how long did they run the calculation? Why can’t we require service from them? Clean the streets in the city/town/village. Help the already strapped government. I feel that giving them something to do would give them self worth, a meaning, a purpose. Have you ever met anyone that just keeps on going working well after retirement, just so that they have somewhere to go something to do on a daily basis. I don’t know about the laws and the constitution being right or wrong but something needs to change.

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