Not-So-Great Scott: Punitive Drug Testing in Florida

May 1st, 2012 by

The courts have been giving Florida Governor Rick Scott a few lessons in the Bill of Rights. He does not appear to be listening, but perhaps the voters of Florida are. Scott wants the state to require drug testing of all welfare recipients and all state employees. A temporary injunction put a stop to the welfare testing and now federal judge Ursula Ungara has ended Scott’s bizarre vision of every state employee peeing into a cup.
The state argued, in part, that the program was voluntary: people don’t have to do it, they’ll just lose their jobs if they don’t. Some definition of “voluntary”!
There are times and circumstances where drug testing is useful and necessary. For jobs involving public safety and genuine risk, drug testing should be mandated. But courts remain sensitive to the constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy. Under the “probable cause” standard, courts look for specific risks and exposures, not for blanket policies that cover everyone. There should be evidence of a problem, possible harm if drug abuse takes place and an over-riding safety interest. This may well describe the situation of a police officer or firefighter, but not a clerk in the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Insubstantial and Speculative Risk

Judge Ungaro pointed out the fundamental flaw of Scott’s executive order: it infringes privacy interests in pursuit of a public interest which is both insubstantial and speculative. She writes that “the proffered special need for drug testing must be substantial- important enough to override the individual’s acknowledged privacy interest, sufficiently vital to suppress the Fourth Amendment’s normal requirement of individualized suspicion.”
By trying to lump all state employees into one big drug testing net, Governor Scott displays his contempt for government and the people who carry out its work. Beyond that, his drug testing obsession runs contrary to a fundamental premise in the Bill of Rights. Someone needs to remind the governor that his job is to protect the rights of every Florida citizen, not compromise these rights in the interests of punitive and ill-conceived policies.
A Random Note on the Original “Great Scott”
The origin of the phrase “Great Scott” is unclear, but Wikipedia surmises that the reference is to U.S. Army, General Winfield Scott, known to his troops as Old Fuss and Feathers. He weighed 300 pounds in his later years and was too fat to ride a horse.

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