A legal fight that has been waged for years over a law that mandated that Floridians applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) take drug tests has finally come to an end – not with the certainty of a pounding gavel but with the expiration of a deadline.
After a federal court rejected the law in question, Florida officials had the option to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the early days of March, the officials decided not to pursue that option, which resulted in the law being permanently struck down.
Not too long after the law had become effective in 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida challenged it by filing suit. A federal court subsequently ruled that the law went against the constitutional protections of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibit unreasonable searches on the part of the government.
Last December, a three-judge appeals court validated the lower court’s decision, setting the stage for a possible Supreme Court appeal, which needed to be filed by March 3.
That never happened.
The ACLU of Florida’s executive director noted that the appeals court ruling underscored the idea that “…no group of people can be summarily forced to submit to invasive and humiliating examinations of their bodily fluids at the whim of the government, even those seeking temporary assistance to make ends meet….”
The decision in this case may reverberate in other parts of the country. In the years since the drug-testing law was initially passed, other states have passed similar laws that require drug tests of those applying for specific state benefits.
The ACLU notes that a recent investigation determined that Florida had accumulated more than $300,000 in legal fees over just the TANF case. Should other states seek to put up a fight to preserve their drug-testing laws for benefit applicants, it stands to reason that they will likely have to pay a similar price – a choice that may not prove wise, given the reluctance of Florida officials to test the matter in the nation’s highest court.