ACLU of Florida challenged policy on behalf of AFSCME; lower courts rejected state’s argument that it could subject all state employees in Governor’s agencies to suspicionless searches.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 21, 2014
CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office, email@example.com, (786) 363-2737
MIAMI, FL – Today, the United States Supreme Court announced that it will not hear an appeal from Florida Governor Rick Scott seeking to overturn an 11th Circuit Court decision that declared unconstitutional the Governor’s Executive Order mandating that state employees in the Governor’s purview submit to suspicionless urinalysis.
The Executive Order had been challenged in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida on behalf of thousands of members of the state’s largest public employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 79.
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, 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 2011 Executive Order mandated all state employees and job applicants in executive branch agencies under the purview of the governor (about 77% of the state workforce) submit to invasive tests of their bodily fluids, without any suspicion of drug use. On May 31, 2011, the ACLU of Florida filed a lawsuit challenging the order on behalf of the AFSCME Council 79, which at the time represented approximately 40,000 public workers who were subject to the suspicionless drug-testing program under the order.
In April 2012, a district court enjoined the Executive Order, declaring that requiring state employees to submit to invasive searches without suspicion of drug use violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches. The state appealed that decision, and in May of 2013, the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rejected the state’s argument that the government has the authority to require all employees submit to the invasive and humiliating drug tests as a condition of employment. By refusing to hear the state’s appeal, the Supreme Court left in place that decision.
“The public servants who would be impacted by this Executive Order have been working under a needless cloud of suspicion, treating them like suspected criminals ever since the Executive Order was signed by Gov. Scott,” stated AFSCME Florida Council 79 president Jeanette D. Wynn. “Today’s decision by the court lifts that cloud once and for all and says that people don’t lose their constitutional rights simply because they work for the public. 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 searches as a condition of their employment.”
Despite today’s decision by the Supreme Court effectively ending the appeals process in the case, 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.
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 Supreme Court’s order list is available here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/orders/courtorders/042114zor_c0n2.pdf
More information about the case is available here: http://aclufl.org/2013/05/29/federal-appeals-court-delivers-latest-blow-to-gov-scotts-unprecedented-state-employee-drug-testing-program/
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