Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Yet Another Random Drug Testing Policy

In the past two years, conservative state lawmakers have pushed various unconstitutional policies requiring state employees, welfare beneficiaries and other groups to submit to random drug testing. These programs are fairly consistently struck down by courts as unconstitutional. On Friday, a federal government program subjecting its employees to similar drug testing suffered a similar fate:

A federal appeals court on Friday declared a random drug testing program for government workers at 28 U.S. Forest Service Job Corps centers unconstitutional.

The centers are home for at-risk youths from ages 16 to 24 from troubled environments. Residents are housed in remote rural locations and trained in various vocations.

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the small number of drug use incidents among a workforce of several thousand over many years does not establish a serious problem, much less an immediate crisis necessitating expansion of a random drug testing policy.

It’s worth noting that this recent decision presented a significantly more difficult case than the random drug testing pushed by conservative governors like Rick Scott (R-FL) or Mitch Daniels (R-IN). The Supreme Court does allow random drug testing of government employees in “safety-sensitive” jobs where “even a momentary lapse of attention [could] have disastrous consequences.” The Feds argued, unsuccessfully, that adults tasked with modeling drug free behavior for at-risk youth in remote locations present similar concerns “because a drug using employee is necessarily impaired in his or her ability to function in emergencies.”

Although this argument did not carry the day, it is a much stronger argument than the one justifying random testing of all government employees or of people receiving state assistance — where similar safety concerns generally do not exist. Indeed, Rick Scott’s program targeting welfare beneficiaries is largely a solution in search of a problem. Only two percent of these beneficiaries failed their test.