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November 20, 2018

Drug tests for elected office


Drug tests for elected office
Chandler v Miller, Governor of Georgia, US Supreme Court, 520 U.S. 305

A Georgia statute requires candidates for designated state offices to certify that they have taken a urinalysis drug test within 30 days prior to qualifying for nomination or election and that the test result was negative. Libertarian Party candidates sued, arguing that the law violated their Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Ginsburg, decided that the Georgia law was unconstitutional because it failed to overcome the general principle that a search is justifiable only in the event of individualized suspicion. The Court said that to be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, a search ordinarily must be based on individualized suspicion of wrongdoing.

While there are a number of "particularized exceptions" to this main rule based on "special needs, beyond the normal need for law enforcement," the Supreme Court said that  "when such "special needs" - concerns other than crime detection - are alleged in justification of a Fourth Amendment intrusion, courts must undertake a context-specific inquiry, examining closely the competing private and public interests advanced by the parties," referring to its ruling in Von Raab, 489 U S at 665-666.

Georgia, the Court decided, failed to show a special need sufficient to override an individual's privacy interest or sufficiently vital to its interests to justify suppressing the Fourth Amendment's normal requirement of individualized suspicion for requiring an individual submit to testing for illegal drugs.

Holding that Georgia's requirement that candidates for state office pass a drug test does not fit within the closely guarded category of constitutionally permissible suspicionless searches, the high court reversed the Eleventh Circuit's ruling upholding the statute. The ruling is consistent with decisions by New York State courts that, except where a negotiated agreement or statute authorizes or requires random drug testing, a public employer must have reasonable cause or justified suspicion to require an employee to take an involuntary drug test.


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